The Politics of Imprisonment seeks to document and explain the chronic long-term differences in American crime policy. It argues that the American states responded in radically different ways to rising crime, social upheaval, war, and declining trust in government due to the variation, complexity, and nuances of American democracy. It examines how the democratic process and social trust shape penal sanctioning in the United States. The research shows that higher levels of civic engagement tend to support milder punishments whereas lower levels tend to support more coercive criminal justice policies. The book challenges a taken-for-granted assumption about the democratic process and punishment. It shows that the apparent link between public participation, punitiveness and harsh justice is not only historically contingent but dependent upon specific institutional contexts and patterns of civic engagement, patterns which tend to vary within the US and across liberal democracies. But perhaps more importantly, the research suggests the opposite relationship: increased democratization can support and sustain less coercive penal regimes. By comparing state-level imprisonment variation and state-level democratic traditions, this book highlights the importance of place, locality, and context in a globalizing social world.