Over the last three hundred years, incarceration has become far more than a form of punishment; the modern prison is an “intensely political” institution.The Politics of Incarceration Research Network has been formed to explore the intersection between political forces, incarceration patterns, and penal regimes in a historic and contemporary context.

As Sarah Shannon has observed, “Imprisonment is fundamentally an exercise of power and is therefore influenced by the political forces, policy choices, public sentiment, and media interpretations that drive political actors in modern society.” Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that the development of penal policy and regimes are not simply driven by the level of crime; they are also profoundly related to the political context, expressions of state power, and a larger political discourse on crime and punishment.  Political and public debates over penal policy can therefore reflect much larger conflict over a nation’s social, political, and economic values.

This network seeks to draw together researchers working on the “politics of incarceration” across different times and places, and thereby aims to offer a comparative perspective on the interplay between political forces, prison policy, crime levels and punishment. By combining the insights offered by academic research with the work of contemporary prison reform organizations, the network’s activities will serve to highlight strategies for empowering prisoners and supporting their families, and identify policy areas of particular concern to prison reform advocates.