Unemployment and racial differences in imprisonment

Samuel L. Myers, William J. Sabol

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    17 Scopus citations


    Conventional wisdom about the criminal justice system suggests that extralegal factors such as race or employment status should not affect sentencing outcomes. In this paper we examine an alternative model of the relationship between imprisonment and unemployment and race. The model suggests that penal practices are shaped by the labor market conditions of a system of production and that prisons, as part of a larger set of institutions providing support for economically-dependent populations, help to regulate the most superfluous group of workers in the industrial economy of the Northern states of the United States-unemployed black workers who comprise a large fraction of the pool of "reserve" workers necessary for price stability and economic expansion. We find support for the structural model that links black imprisonment (and Northern imprisonment in general) to manufacturing output and black unemployment.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)189-209
    Number of pages21
    JournalThe Review of Black Political Economy
    Issue number1-2
    StatePublished - Jun 1 1987


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