Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Date of Award

January 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name



Criminal Justice

First Advisor

Marvin Zalman


Mass incarceration has pervaded throughout the country and in its wake, the United States is looked to as the country that imprisons the largest percentage of its population than any other place in the world. The phenomenon of mass incarceration continues to be deconstructed by scholars in an attempt to turn the tide and understand the various intricacies that lie at the center of our carceral state. This paper attempts to explore those intricacies on a local level by looking at Detroit, Michigan. The city of Detroit has been constantly restructured economically, politically, racially, and socially throughout the years as the influx of African-Americans arrived in the city looking to escape the perils of the Deep South. Years of struggles for housing, jobs, and basic civil rights marked the city and created racial divide. The removal of the majority of automobile manufacturing from the city center saw the removal of population as white Detroiters field the city. The local police department once predominantly white and distrusted in the black community due to police brutality or indifference underwent change with the election of Mayor Coleman Young. The city could not escape the impact of mass incarceration however as national and state crime policies began to hit Detroit communities and the minority community saw the loss of young, black men to prison because of low-level drug charges who were subsequently returned unskilled and uneducated. The economy fluctuations, crime policies, residual racial tensions, and fear of crime among other issues led to a city that constantly struggles. This paper explores the issues Detroit has faced and continues to face and through the use of in-depth elite interviews attempts to narrate what empirical data has shown; Detroit has seen significant population change and the mass incarceration has contributed to the city’s decline. Results and implications of the semi-structured interviews, crime data, and population data are discussed.