This article seeks to explain the persistence of high incarceration rates in England and Wales. Building upon recent theoretical work on path dependence, we identify prison population forecasting as a poorly understood positive feedback mechanism that helps to determine the overall scale, scope and reach of the prison estate by connecting capital expenditure decisions with ‘business as usual’ planning cycles that assume considerable policy continuity with the past. We illustrate this point with reference to recent controversies over women's imprisonment where the everyday, routinised working practices of the penal system have played an important role in sustaining prison expansionism long after the initial conditions that fuelled the mid‐1990s prison boom have faded. Disrupting these self‐fulfilling logics will not be easy and we conclude this article with a call for a more deliberative democratic politics that confronts penal momentum and invites greater consideration of the many possible futures of penal policy.
Guiney, T., & Yeomans, H. (2023). Explaining penal momentum: Path dependence, prison population forecasting and the persistence of high incarceration rates in England and Wales. Howard Journal of Crime and Justice, 62(1), 29-45. https://doi.org/10.1111/hojo.12507