Race, Gender and Imprisonment

This line of work includes studies of race differences in patterns of imprisonment among men and among women. Heimer and colleagues’ research (Joseph Lang of UI, Andes Rengifo of Rutgers, and Kecia Johnson of SUNY-Albany) shows that demographic shifts in minority and economically disadvantaged populations are associated with increasing rates of imprisonment for both whites and blacks, although the increases for blacks are somewhat larger.

This is consistent with what is called the “threat hypothesis” in the sociological literature, and indicates that as minority and economically marginal populations increase, criminal justice practices and other mechanisms of state social control also increase, becoming more punitive. Among women, the research shows that incarceration rates increase as welfare (AFDC/TANF) spending decreases. This parallels earlier studies, by Heimer and other scholars, that show that there is a tradeoff between criminal justice and welfare, on average, such that when one increases the other declines and vice versa.