PARTISAN POLITICS, ELECTORAL COMPETITION AND IMPRISONMENT: AN ANALYSIS OF STATES OVER TIME
The now well-documented explosion in prison populations over the last 30 years has spurred significant attention in the literature. Early research focused primarily on economic explanations. More recently it has focused on political explanations of prison growth. Here we extend research on political explanations of imprisonment by drawing on the literature on state politics and public policy. We argue that the effect of partisan politics on punishment is conditional on how much electoral competition legislators face. We test this hypothesis using annual state level data on imprisonment from 1978 to 1996. Our findings show that the effect of Republican state legislative strength on prison admissions depends on time and the level of competition in state legislative elections. We argue that these findings suggest the need for a more nuanced understanding of the link between partisan U.S. politics and imprisonment.