Correctional Autonomy and Authority in the Rise of Mass Incarceration

KERAMET REITER, KELSIE CHESNUT

ANNUAL REVIEW OF LAW AND SOCIAL SCIENCE

Abstract: Much of the literature explaining both mass incarceration and increasingly harsh punishment policies has been dominated by a focus on factors external to prisons, such as macrolevel explanations that point to political factors (like a popular rhetoric of governing through crime) or social structures (like the presence or absence of a strong welfare state). Where scholarship has focused on factors internal to prisons, explanations have often focused less on individual actors or correctional influence and more on processes, such as routinization, legalization, and risk management. This article argues for the importance of an additional explanatory factor in understanding the phenomenon of mass incarceration: the internal and relatively individualized influence of correctional officials, especially mid-level bureaucrats, who exercise autonomy and authority not only over prisoners and prison policy implementation but over policy initiation.