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If You Build It, They Will Fill It: The Unintended Consequences of Prison Overcrowding Litigation
Unformatted Document Text:  If You Build It, They Will Fill It: The Unintended Consequences of Prison Overcrowding Litigation Proposal for the ASC Meetings November, 2009 by Joshua Guetzkow and Eric Schoon University of Arizona ABSTRACT Research attempting to understand the growth of incarceration in the U.S. has pointed to the role of law-and-order politics. Historically, however, support for “getting tough on crime” has not necessarily translated into political support for expanding prison capacity —which is a necessary condition for mass incarceration. In other words putting people in prison was always easy; building them was not. This paper examines the unintended effects of prison overcrowding litigation on incarceration using newly available information on prison civil rights litigation joined with cross-section time-series data from 49 states from 1972-1996. The analysis indicates the following: (1) that prison overcrowding litigation is followed by sizeable increases in per capita correctional spending on capital outlays (capacity-building); and (2) that increases in capital outlay spending are followed by increases in the incarceration rate. In effect, prison overcrowding litigation has indirectly contributed to mass incarceration by boosting prison capacity. The paper concludes with a theoretical discussion on the interplay between judicial actions and local politics.

Authors: Guetzkow, Joshua. and Schoon, Eric.
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If You Build It, They Will Fill It:
The Unintended Consequences of Prison Overcrowding Litigation
Proposal for the ASC Meetings
November, 2009
Joshua Guetzkow
Eric Schoon
University of Arizona
Research attempting to understand the growth of incarceration in the U.S. has pointed to 
the role of law-and-order politics. Historically, however, support for “getting tough on 
crime” has not necessarily translated into political support for expanding prison capacity
—which is a necessary condition for mass incarceration. In other words putting people in 
prison was always easy; building them was not. This paper examines the unintended 
effects of prison overcrowding litigation on incarceration using newly available 
information on prison civil rights litigation joined with cross-section time-series data 
from 49 states from 1972-1996. The analysis indicates the following: (1) that prison 
overcrowding litigation is followed by sizeable increases in per capita correctional 
spending on capital outlays (capacity-building); and (2) that increases in capital outlay 
spending are followed by increases in the incarceration rate. In effect, prison 
overcrowding litigation has indirectly contributed to mass incarceration by boosting 
prison capacity. The paper concludes with a theoretical discussion on the interplay 
between judicial actions and local politics.

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