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Becky Pettit

Illusions of Justice: Crime and Punishment in a Model Reform State

Tuesday March 6th, 5:00 pm, White Hall B51

Abstract: Two decades of crime declines in the United States, and significant and sustained policy attention to criminal justice reform, has led some observers to suggest that the U.S. is reconsidering its experiment in mass incarceration. Most Americans are at the lowest risk of victimization in a generation and some states, like Texas, have attracted outsized attention for reform efforts to reduce the number of people held in state prisons and jails, decrease sentence lengths and time served, and offer community-based supervision and non-custodial sanctions. However, and despite significant rhetoric of criminal justice reform, incarceration and criminal justice contact in the United States more broadly – and the Lonestar state specifically – remains historically and comparatively high. Texas sanctions more people each year through the criminal justice system than live in Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, Delaware, and Montana combined. Criminal justice contact in Texas, like other states, is disproportionately concentrated among young disadvantaged men of color. In this study, I examine whether and how contemporary criminal justice policy in Texas influences exposure to the criminal justice system and consider how seemingly benign criminal justice practices disproportionately impact historically disadvantaged groups.


Becky Pettit is Professor of Sociology at the University of Texas-Austin. She is a sociologist, trained in demographic methods, with interests in social inequality broadly defined.  She is the author of two books and numerous articles which have appeared in the American Sociological Review, the American Journal of SociologyDemographySocial ProblemsSocial Forces and other journals. Her newest book, Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress(Russell Sage Foundation 2012) investigates how decades of growth in America's prisons and jails obscures basic accounts of racial inequality.  Her previous book, co-authored with Jennifer Hook of the University of Southern California, Gendered Tradeoffs: Family, Social Policy, and Economic Inequality in Twenty-One Countries (Russell Sage Foundation 2009) was selected as a Noteworthy Book in Industrial Relations and Labor Economics in 2010. 


Funding for this lecture was provided by the Institute for Humane Studies through a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation.  

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