Skip to main content

Speaker Series: Heather Schoenfeld, Northwestern University

  • When: May 16, 2018, 12 pm
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor, Lakeside, Chicago IL 60611

Calendar event Add this event to your calendar (Outlook, iCal, etc…)

Carceral Capacity and the Development of Mass Incarceration

Courtesy of Heather Schoenfeld

Scholarship on the rise of mass incarceration in the United States has foregrounded political and profession contestation within changing macro socioeconomic conditions and established political institutions. In this talk, I draw from my book, Building the Prison State: Race and the Politics of Mass Incarceration (University of Chicago Press, 2018), to argue that the development of state capacity shapes penal actors’ ideas and interests and is thus foundational to the carceral state. In particular, I discuss the growth of state capacity to punish, or what I call “carceral capacity.” Through a detailed case study of crime control politics and policy in Florida from the 1950s to the present, I demonstrate how the bureaucratization and modernization of policing, courts and corrections – even when part of a progressive political agenda – created the conditions for the vast expansion of state-sponsored punishment in the United States. Carceral capacity reinforced conservative ideas about crime control, empowered law enforcement and victims, and incentivized tough-on-crime political posturing. Finally, the notion of carceral capacity points to some of the perils of contemporary criminal justice reform.

Heather Schoenfeld is an Assistant Professor of Legal Studies and Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University. She holds a PhD in sociology from Northwestern University, is a sociologist of law who works at the intersection of politics, policy, race and the law. Her research focuses on systems of criminal punishment. Her studies on the origins and development of mass incarceration in the United States have been published in sociology, law and society, and law journals. Her book, Building the Prison State: Race and the Politics of Mass Incarceration, was recently published by the University of Chicago Press. Schoenfeld is currently working on a project that examines the motivations for recent state level criminal justice policy reform aimed at reducing prison populations. 

« Return to ABF Research Seminars

Site design by Webitects

© 2019 American Bar Foundation (
750 North Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611-4403
(312) 988-6500
Contact Us
Media Contacts
Privacy policy
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in ABF publications are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Bar Foundation or the American Bar Association. The AMERICAN BAR FOUNDATION, ABF and related seal trademarks as used by the American Bar Foundation are owned by the American Bar Association and used under license.