Comparative researchers have converged upon a strong, but under-specified, consensus that “institutions matter” regarding the causes of imprisonment and the rise of mass incarceration. This chapter attempts to make progress towards a generalizable framework designed to foster better understanding imprisonment. It summarizes the social control model as the dominant framework for understanding imprisonment and prison growth historically and across social contexts. The chapter summarizes a variety of contemporary research and findings that raise substantial doubts about the generalizability of the social control model. Several of the direct implications within the social control model stand at odds with the available evidence. The chapter provides the outline of an alternative model of government failure for better explaining imprisonment trends. One of the most confirmed claims of the dominant social control model is that imprisonment trends are not sufficiently explained as a byproduct of real crime rates.