A demography of incarceration: An analysis of measurement and mortality in United States' state correctional facilities, 1985–1998

Evelyn Joy Diane Patterson, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation uses two subfields of sociology, criminology and demography, to investigate the demography of incarceration. Currently, a gap exists between the tools of demography and the understanding of incarceration. This gap inhibits the possibility to fully understand the processes driving and sustaining the growing prison population in the United States. The United States supersedes every other nation in its rate of incarceration, and the life-state of incarceration disproportionately affects different groups. As more people enter and cycle through the American judicial system, it is imperative to examine if, and how, their interaction modifies their current and future life circumstances. The dissertation studies three essential issues in the demography of incarceration: (1) the quality of correctional data; (2) current measures of mean length of stay in prison; and (3) mortality of persons under correctional supervision. The first analysis uses the balancing equation of population change to investigate the reliability of prison and parole data. This study confirms the reliability of prison data, and establishes a probable source of error in parole data. The second chapter critiques and enhances current measures used to study mean length of stay in prison. It presents two new measures, which perform well under a variety of conditions imposed and tested via simulated populations. These new measures provide ease of calculation and also adjust for the biases present in unstable populations. The last chapter examines sex and race differenentials in the prison and non-prison population. The sex differential in mortality persists in prison, however the relative gap decreases. When we restrict the population to men in prison, the large racial differential present in the U.S. population virtually disappears. This work provides evidence that in standardized environments, the differences in mortality by sex and race diminish substantially. In sum, the dissertation takes crucial steps towards understanding the demography of incarceration in the United States and establishes a model for future study of incarcerated populations.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Patterson, Evelyn Joy Diane, "A demography of incarceration: An analysis of measurement and mortality in United States' state correctional facilities, 1985–1998" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3271799.