America is a nation that locks up more people per capita than any other country in the world.  The Sentencing Project reports 2.2 million people are incarcerated in America’s prisons. That’s a 500% increase over the past 40 years. The Institute for Criminal Policy Research in London reports America locks up 670 people per 100,000. Russia locks up 439 per 100,000. Rwanda 434 per 100,000. China 118 per 100,000. How in the world did this happen? Are Americans criminally prone? Or has America’s desire for security and tough sentencing policies lost its way?

This week on Life of the Law we ask scholars who have studied the history and changing conditions of prisons, and a man who was incarcerated for more than 20 years, to join us in the studios of KQED in San Francisco — to talk about the social, financial and cultural impact of mass incarceration and what change would look like.


In-Studio:  Locking People Up

Production Notes:

In-Studio: Locking People Up was edited and produced by Tony Gannon. Special thanks to Osagie Obasogie, Ashley Rubin, Keramet Reiter, Rebecca McClennan, and Troy Williams for joining us at KQED studios in San Francisco.

We also want to thank Jonathan Simon, Adrian A. Kragen Professor of Law and Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Society at UC Berkeley and author of Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Case and the Future of Prisons in America, and  Governing Through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Culture and Created a Culture of Fear, and Rosann Greenspan, Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Society for making this very special project possible.

Our post production editors are Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle and Rachael Cain.  Music in this episode was composed by Ian Coss. Jim Bennett and Howard Gelman of KQED Radio in San Francisco were our engineers.

This episode of Life of the Law was funded in part donations from our listeners and by grants from the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California, Berkeley, the  Law and Society Association and the National Science Foundation.

© Copyright 2017 Life of the Law. All rights reserved.

Suggested Supplemental Reading:

Osagie Obasogie

  • Race in the Life Sciences: An Empirical Assessment, 1950 – 2000, 83 Fordham Law Review 3089 (2016) (with J. Harris-Wai, K. Darling, C. Keagy, and M. Levesque). PDF
  • Moore is Less: Why the Development of Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Might Lead Us to Rethink Differential Property Interests in Excised Human Cells (with Helen Theung), 16 Stanford Technology Law Review 51. (2012) PDF
  • The Return of Biological Race? Regulating Race and Genetics Through Administrative Agency Race Impact Assessments, 22 Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal 1 (2012) PDF
  • Prisoners as Human Subjects: A Closer Look at the Institute of Medicine’s Recommendations to Loosen Current Restrictions on Using Prisoners in Scientific Research, 6 Stanford Journal of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties 41 (2010).


Ashley Rubin


Rebecca McClennan

  • Response, in The Will to Punish, by Didier Fassin (2016 Tanner Lectures), Oxford University Press (forthcoming, 2017)
  • “America’s Human Rights Crisis in Historical Perspective,” Social Justice 42: 2 (2016).
  • “Why Prison Stories Matter” (2014), Public Books
  • “When Felons Were Human” (2011), On the Human, National Humanities Center (featured contributor).
  • “The Convict’s Two Lives,” in David Garland and Michael Meranze, eds., Rethinking the Death Penalty in Historical Context (forthcoming, 2010, NYU Press)
  • “Imprisonment’s ‘Square Deal’: Prisoners and their Keepers in 1920s New York,” Journal of Urban History 28: 5 (Jul. 2003).
  • “The New Penal State: Globalization, History, and American Criminal Justice, c. 2000,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies (Fall, 2001).
  • “Revolutions and Rights,” and “Equality and Citizenship,” Contemporary Civilization Reader, 7th ed. (New York: Heritage Press, 2000).
  • “Writings of the American Revolution,” Contemporary Civilization Reader, 6th ed. (New York: American Heritage, 1997).


Heather Ann Thompson (for a more complete list)