This study aims to explore what factors influence an increase in incarceration numbers across the United States. The literature is full of theories regarding the school to prison pipeline, and which policies specifically cause higher incarceration levels. Among researchers there is not an agreed upon cause for mass incarceration. It is understood that a variety of political, social and normative factors shape the landscape of the prison system in the United States. Factors that are said to influence a states incarceration rates include: (1) policy liberalism within a state, defined by which reductions in mandatory sentences and pushes towards rehabilitative justice a state has undertaken; (2) racial demographics of the state; (3) out of school suspension rates; (4) youth poverty levels; and (5) the political leaning of a state, meaning whether the state tends to vote more Republican or Democrat. This study utilizes regression analysis to explore which of the above factors have a significant impact on state incarceration rates. The overall conclusion was that conservative states, which are characterized as having low policy liberalism, tend to have higher levels of incarceration. In addition, when percentage of Republicans in a state is controlled for, Black and Latino out of school suspension rates were double that of White students.


Van Doorn, Bas


Political Science


Law and Race

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



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