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Cents and sensibility: A case study of corrections reform in Kansas and Michigan

June 2010

Andres F. Rengifo, Don Stemen, Brendan D. Dooley, Ethan Amidon, Amanda Gendon


This article examines the ongoing process of penal reform in the correctional systems of Kansas and Michigan and argues that the new framework has the potential to obscure the relationship between penal practices and their immediate institutional environment. This article shows the nature and scope of reforms in both states were determined not just by internal considerations but by a number of forces operating outside of the penal bureaucracy including economic crises, events, and the interests of external actors. The authors find that these outside forces both constrained and encouraged correctional reforms and led to evolving reform rationales that often conflicted with the practices of the new penology, which is said to reflect an emerging “managerial” perspective focused on the control of specific subpopulations and the regulation of risk through actuarial instruments and selective long-term control.

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Policy Implications

This article may be useful in exploring the policy implications of the ability of corrections officials to respond to all the factors including the nature of the corrections system in addition to the external forces shaping prison reform in the states. As corrections agencies develop new policies and procedures to adapt to the expansion of the system, external forces may play a larger role in the direction of correctional reform than the current penal framework allows. This article shows how Kansas and Michigan are in a unique position to show the “old penology” corrections reform and the limitations of the new penology as an analytical framework for understanding reform.

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