With few exceptions, twentieth century reviews of social stratification and mobility research scarcely addressed punishment. But as U.S. incarceration rates rose to historically unprecedented levels, new work emerged to document this punitive turn and to consider its implications for inequality. Punishment has now grown too big to ignore, with stratification researchers characterizing incarceration as a powerful “engine
of social inequality” (Western 2006, p. 198) that plays a “massive” (Pager 2009,
p. 160) and racialized (Bobo & Thompson 2006) part in the contemporary stratification
system. This review details the changing social conditions that thrust punishment onto
the agenda of stratification researchers and the established and emerging findings from this research.

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