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Bruce Western

Bryce Professor of Sociology and Social Justice; and Co-Director of the Justice Lab, Columbia University

About Bruce

Western is interested in how economic life has changed for low-income and working families over the last thirty years, and how government policy – particularly in the fields of criminal justice and the labor market – has influenced those changes. He has testified on mass incarceration before the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, proposed a National Prisoner Reentry Policy, served on the National Research Council’s Panel to Review the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and chaired the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Task Force on “The Challenge of Mass Incarceration.”


The Disadvantages of America’s Prison Boom

  • Becky Pettit

Union Decline and Rising U.S. Wage Inequality

  • Jake Rosenfeld

In the News

The Princetonian, October 15, 2018.
Bruce Western's research on Marianne Dodson, "After Prison, Coming Home Can be the Toughest Ordeal of All," The Crime Report, June 1, 2018.
Interview on problems with US prison system Bruce Western, Pacific Standard, May 15, 2018.
Bruce Western's research on mass incarceration discussed by Vann R. Newkirk III, "'Human Frailty' is a Byproduct of Mass Incarceration," The Atlantic, May 11, 2018.
"The Rehabilitation Paradox," Bruce Western, The New Yorker, May 9, 2016.
Bruce Western's research on how the stigma of a criminal record hurts job applicants discussed by Dara Lind, "Ban the Box: President Obama’s Plan to Help Ex-Prisoners Get Jobs, Explained," Vox, November 2, 2015.
Bruce Western quoted on reintegrating into life after prison by Jon Mooallem, "You Just Got Out of Prison. Now What?" New York Times, July 16, 2015.
"The Man Who Foresaw Baltimore," Bruce Western, Politico, April 30, 2015.
Bruce Western quoted on how key factors effect the likelihood of going to prison by Evan Horowitz, "What are Your Chances of Going to Prison?" Boston Globe, March 19, 2015.
"Shoveling a Path Out of Prison," Bruce Western (with Linda Naval), The Atlantic, March 1, 2015.
Bruce Western quoted on implicit racial bias by Sendhil Mullainathan, "Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions" New York Times, January 3, 2015.
"Protests Shine Light on Deeper Issues with Modern Justice," Bruce Western (with Jeremy Travis), Boston Globe, December 16, 2014.
Bruce Western's research on recidivism rates discussed by Amanda Scherker, "The 14 Most F#$%ed Up Things about America's Obsession with Putting People behind Bars," Huffington Post, June 16, 2014.
Bruce Western's research on how the decline of unions relates to a decline in upward mobility (with Jake Rosenfeld) discussed by Aaron Corvin, "Strictly Business: Decline of Unions Has Steep Price," The Columbian, September 8, 2013.
Bruce Western's research on the effects of union decline on income inequality (with Jake Rosenfeld) discussed by Emma Green, "Are Shrinking Unions Making Workers Poorer?," The Atlantic, July 24, 2013.
Bruce Western's research on prison as a means of keeping families in poverty (with Becky Pettit) discussed by John Tierney, "Prison and the Poverty Trap," New York Times, February 18, 2013.
Bruce Western quoted on incerceration, "Story of Prisons is a Crime" Seattle Times, October 10, 2011.
"The Truth about Our Nation’s Prisons," Bruce Western, Interview with Timothy Harris, Real Change News, October 5, 2011.
"Locked Up, Locked Out," Bruce Western, Reason Magazine, July 1, 2011.


"Incarceration and Social Inequality" (with Becky Pettit). Dædalus 139, no. 3 (2010): 8-19.
Examines changes in inequality in imprisonment; studies penal inequality by estimating lifetime risks of imprisonment for black and white men at different levels of education, arguing that the risks of incarceration are highly stratified by education; argues that the novel pervasiveness of imprisonment indicates the emergence of incarceration as a new stage in the life course of young low-skill black men.
"The Growth of Incarceration in the United States," (with the Committee on the Causes and Consequences of High Rates of Incarceration), National Research Council, April 30, 2014.
Sums up research on the causes and harmful effects of America’s over-reliance on imprisonment – and recommends reforms in sentencing, prison practices and social programs for ex-prisoners and their families.
"Unions, Norms, and the Rise in U.S. Wage Inequality" (with Jake Rosenfeld). American Sociological Review 76, no. 4 (2011): 513-537.
Shows how the decline in U.S. labor union membership contributed to the rise in economic inequality over the last three decades.
Punishment and Inequality in America (Russell Sage Foundation, 2006).
Demonstrates how the rise in the U.S. prison population has contributed to increased poverty and racial inequality in America.
"Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration" (with Becky Pettit). American Sociological Review 69, no. 2 (2004): 151-169.
Shows how the increase in imprisonment rates in the United States has been heavily concentrated among African Americans without college education; prison time has become commonplace among young black men who have dropped out of school.