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  • Print publication year: 2021
  • Online publication date: February 2021

3 - Explaining Prison Growth


This chapter presents our core argument – the close association of prisons and crime – and shows that more imprisonment may have increased criminality. It presents several hypotheses for the prison growth and studies the nature of policies enacted in response to the rise in criminality and which led to the prison explosion. We use an in-depth analysis of three representative countries: Colombia, Mexico, and Chile. We maintain that high turnover and the increased severity of punishment for very serious crimes account for the prison explosion, impacting critical living conditions within correction facilities throughout Latin America. We argue that prison growth has endogenously produced more crime on the streets because high inmate turnover has created large new cohorts who reenter society and rapidly reengage in criminal acts. We test this hypothesis by modeling a regression analysis of incarceration rates for property crime in order to prove that imprisonment has a delayed-lagged effect on property crimes, providing substantial evidence for the criminogenic effect of prisons.

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