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Bifurcation Nation: Strategy in Contemporary American Punishment

Posted: 2 Jun 2015  

Christopher Seeds

New York University (NYU)

Date Written: June 1, 2015

Abstract

Important recent work by penal scholars recognizes the need to study the interplay between federal and state initiatives and between state and local structures. But the sociology of punishment has been less cognizant of late of the importance of studying the relation between the divergent treatment of high-level and low-level offenses and offenders as a means of understanding those federal, state or local approaches to penalty. By one conventional view, the divergent policy trends for violent and nonviolent offenders are unrelated operations working at different ends of an ambivalent carceral spectrum; by another emergent perspective, the increasing decarceration of low-level offenders marks a general shift away from mass incarceration that has yet to extend to serious offenders and offenses. This paper suggests that, rather than a unidirectional force or mere ambivalent mix of old and new, contemporary sentencing policy is better understood as a bifurcation strategy — one that responds uniquely to the new dilemmas and new constraints presented by a moment we might call, with cautious optimism, late mass incarceration.

Suggested Citation

Seeds, Christopher, Bifurcation Nation: Strategy in Contemporary American Punishment (June 1, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2613083 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2613083

Christopher Seeds (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Department of Sociology
292 Lafayette Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10012
United States

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