Bruce Western is a sociologist who studies the connections between political institutions and social and economic inequality, with a focus on criminal justice policy and incarceration. Western’s research has detailed the causes, scope, and consequences of the historic growth in U.S. prison populations. He is the Bryce Professor of Sociology and Social Justice at Columbia University, and co-director of Columbia’s Justice Lab.
Western is the Principal Investigator of the Square One Project, which re-imagines the public policy response to violence under conditions of poverty and racial inequality. He was the Vice Chair of the National Academy of Sciences panel on the causes and consequences of high incarceration rates in the United States. He is the author of Homeward: Life in the Year after Prison (2018), and Punishment and Inequality in America (2006), which won the 2007 Albert J. Reiss Award from the Crime Law and Deviance Section of the American Sociological Association and the 2008 Michael J. Hindelang Award for the most outstanding contribution to research on criminology from the American Society of Criminology.
Western was born in Canberra, Australia. He received his B.A. with first class honors in government from the University of Queensland, Australia in 1986, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1993. He taught at Princeton University from 1993 to 2007, and then at Harvard University until his move to Columbia in 2018. At Harvard, he was director of the Kennedy School’s Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy and the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice Policy, as well as director of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy and faculty chair of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Western is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Russell Sage Foundation Visiting Scholar, and a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study.