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Liberty Deprived: The Social and Political Determinants of Female Incarceration Rates, 1979-2001


Rates of female incarceration rose steadily during the last two decades of the twentieth century. The consequences of increased female incarceration are far reaching, not only affecting the women and their families during the period of incarceration, but also resulting in continued collateral consequences after their release. While considerable attention has been paid to the role of the war on drugs as a causal of growth at the national level, there has been scant research that examined other possible causes of variation in female incarceration rates over time at the state level. This research investigates state variation in changes in female incarceration rates between 1979 and 2001, along with changes in potentially important political, social, cultural, and economic factors. This analysis confirms the importance of broadening the scope of variables used when attempting to theorize explanations for female incarceration. It has also highlights the importance of the intersection of gender and race in determining female incarceration rates. Moreover, it has points to the importance of historically sensitive research methods to provide a clearer understanding. Finally, it shows that a combination of social, political, cultural, and economic factors determine the use of incarceration as a means of formal social control of women in the U.S.

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