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Michelle Suzanne Phelps

Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Chapter Member: Minneapolis-St. Paul SSN
Areas of Expertise:

About Michelle

Phelps' research focuses on criminal justice policies, practices, and institutions in the U.S. over the past half-century. Across projects on penal change, probation, and policing, this work provides new theoretical tools and empirical findings to reshape the way we understand punishment.


Improve Health for Adults on Community Supervision

  • Kelly Lyn Mitchell
  • Rebecca Shlafer

In the News

Opinion: "Congress's First Step Act Reflects a New Criminal Justice Consensus, but Will It Reduce Mass Incarceration?," Michelle Suzanne Phelps, The Conversation, January 30, 2019.


"The Paradox of Probation: Community Supervision in the Age of Mass Incarceration" Law & Policy 35, no. 1 (2013): 51-80.

Develops and empirically tests an account of the relationship between probation and imprisonment rates, using Bureau of Justice data from 1980-2010. Argues that probation can serve as either a net-widener or as a prison alternative, depending on state and local-level policies and their implementation. 

"Ending Mass Probation: Sentencing, Supervision, and Revocation" The Future of Children 28, no. 1 (2018).

Reviews three aspects of probation supervision—who is sentenced to probation, what they experience, and when and why probation is revoked (i.e. when probationers are sent of jailor prison for violating the terms of supervision). Presents policy recommendations for each of these three stages that could reduce the harms of mass probation.

"Mass Probation: Toward a More Robust Theory of State Variation in Punishment" Punishment & Society 19, no. 1 (2016): 53-73.

Defines the term "mass probation" and examines state-level variation in the expansion of probation and imprisonment rates across the United States from 1980-2010. 

"Breaking the Pendulum: The Long Struggle over Criminal Justice" (with Philip Goodman and Joshua Page) (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Systematically debunks the pendulum perspective of the history of criminal justice in the United States, showing that it distorts how and why criminal justice changes. Shows how the pendulum model binds us to the blending of penal orientations, policies, and practices, as well as the struggle between actors that shapes laws, institutions, and how we think about crime, punishment, and related issues. 

"Possibilities and Contestation in Twenty-First Century U.S. Criminal Downsizing" Annual Review of Law and Social Science 12 (2016): 153-170.

Reviews recent trends towards declining prison populations in some states and other criminal justice reform and critiques, existing explanations for these trends. Argues that, although the conservative Right on Crime movement has claimed much of the credit for reform, recent policy shifts would not have been possible without the long struggle of progressive and moderate actors throughout the past four decades to challenge the punitive status quo.