University of Wisconsin Press colophon



University of Wisconsin Madison crest that links to main university site

Association of University Presses member logo that links to main AUPresses site



Catalog Archive / Fall 2020

Wisconsin Sentencing in the Tough-on-Crime Era
How Judges Retained Power and Why Mass Incarceration Happened Anyway

“Eye-opening.” Shepherd Express

The dramatic increase in U.S. prison populations since the 1970s is often blamed on the mandatory sentencing required by “three strikes” laws and other punitive crime bills. Michael O’Hear demonstrates how political dynamics can lead judges to impose harsher sentences. His meticulous analysis of crime and incarceration in the state—one where judges have considerable discretion in sentencing—shows that the prison population has ballooned anyway, increasing nearly tenfold over forty years. Through extensive archival research, original public-opinion polling, and interviews with dozens of key policy makers, he draws lessons from the Wisconsin system that apply to the United States as a whole.


Michael M. O'Hear Michael O’Hear is a professor of law at Marquette University. He is an editor of the journal Federal Sentencing Reporter and has published many articles on sentencing law, criminal procedure, and public opinion about the criminal justice system.




“Serious students of modern sentencing reforms—as well as everyone eager to understand the roots of, and potential responses to, modern mass incarceration—must have this book on their reading list. O’Hear thoroughly canvasses the dynamic story of Wisconsin’s uniquely important sentencing reform history.”
—Douglas Berman, author of the Sentencing Law and Policy Blog

“Fascinating political and social history. O’Hear puts national criminal justice trends into a single-state frame, providing much sharper insights than often come from trying to look at the entirety of this very big country. This is first-rate work.”
—Frank O. Bowman III, University of Missouri School of Law

“Debunks myths surrounding mass incarceration.”

“Highly recommended to judges, academics, students, or anyone interested in learning more about effective sentencing reform.”
New York Journal of Books

“O’Hear’s carefully qualified and explicitly contingent hypothesis enjoys robust support in highly qualified scholarship and in empirical data.”
Wisconsin Lawyer


Additional Resources

Listen to interviews with Michael O’Hear about this book: podcast
Wisconsin Public Radio interview




Download Cover: color | b/w

Download Author Photo: color | b/w

Request Review Copy

Request Exam Copy


Of Related Interest

Wisconsin and the Shaping of American Law

Wisconsin and the Shaping of American Law

Joseph A. Ranney

Defending the Masses

Defending the Masses
A Progressive Lawyer's Battles for Free Speech
Eric B. Easton

Wisconsin Sentencing In the Tough-On-Crime Era: Cover art of  tan background, that darkens around the edges, with a picture of the state of Wisconsin consuming the bottom half of the cover. The Wisconsin image is a striking black, with a chain-link fence pattern throughout it, that matches the color of the background. Above Wisconsin, the title text is proclaimed in intense red font.
Larger images

New in Paperback! January 2021
LC: 2016013661 HV
288 pp. 6 × 9
18 figures, 8 tables

Book icon
Casebound $44.95 S
ISBN 978-0-299-31020-2
Shopping cart

Review Cart

Book icon
Paper $22.95 S
ISBN 978-0-299-31024-0
Shopping cart

Review Cart