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«This PDF is available from The National Academies Press at The Growth of Incarceration in the United ...»

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Taken together, these developments helped foster a receptive environment for political appeals for harsher criminal justice policies and laws. So, too, did the escalation of clashes between protesters and law enforcement authorities during the 1960s and 1970s. In many cases—most notably the police crackdown on protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the shooting deaths of antiwar student protesters at Kent State and Jackson State in 1970, and the bloody assault on New York’s Attica prison in 1971 that left dozens dead—a degree of public sympathy was fostered for protesters and prisoners, at least initially.12 That sympathy dissipated, however, as civil rights opponents continued to link concerns about crime with anxieties about racial disorder; the transformation of the racial status quo; and wider political turmoil, including the wave of urban riots in the 1960s and large-scale demonstrations against the Vietnam War (see, e.g., Beckett, 1997; Flamm, 2005; Weaver, 2007; Thompson, 2010).

Internal Democratic Party divisions over civil rights and the law-andorder question created new opportunities for the Republican Party in the south and elsewhere. In the north, many urban white voters initially maintained a delicate balance on civil rights. Although personally concerned over and often opposed to residential integration at the local level, they supported national pro-civil rights candidates. This balance was undermined as crime and disorder were depicted as racial and civil rights issues;

together they “became the fulcrum points at which the local and national intersected” (Flamm, 2005, p. 10; see also Thompson, 2010).

In response to this altered political context, Republican Party strategists developed what has been termed the “southern strategy.”13 Centered in racially coded appeals to woo southern and working-class white voters, this strategy gradually transformed the landscape of American politics (see, e.g., Phillips, 1969; Tonry, 2011a). As historians make clear, the term “southern strategy” is somewhat misleading. At least some Republicans and even some Democrats had been associating crime with both “blackFor example, the 1971 Attica uprising in New York State spurred a wellspring of public and scholarly interest in how to make prisons more humane and how to decrease the prison population. It also prompted numerous calls for a national moratorium on prison construction (Gottschalk, 2006, p. 181).

13 Although Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign in 1968 involved a law-and-order message combined with a tacit racial appeal to white voters (Edsall and Edsall, 1992), George Wallace’s third-party run also contributed significantly to a climate in which issues of race, protest, and disorder were joined to build a conservative constituency in the south and across the country (Carter, 1995).

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The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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ness” and civil disorder more broadly, in locations outside the south. They had done so, with some success, long before Nixon political operative Kevin Phillips popularized the idea of a southern strategy in the late 1960s (Shermer, 2013; McGirr, 2002; Schoenwald, 2002; Thompson, 2001; Kruse and Sugrue, 2006).

The southern strategy was different in that it rested on politicizing the crime issue in a racially coded manner. Nixon and his political strategists recognized that as the civil rights movement took root, so did more overt and seemingly universally accepted norms of racial equality.14 In this new political context, overtly racial appeals like those wielded by Goldwater’s supporters in the 1964 campaign would be counterproductive to the forging of a new winning majority. Effectively politicizing crime and other wedge issues—such as welfare—would require the use of a form of racial coding that did not appear on its face to be at odds with the new norms of racial equality. As top Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman explained, Nixon “emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks.

The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while appearing not to [emphasis in original]” (Haldeman, 1994, p. 53).

The widespread loss of popular faith in liberalism’s ability to ensure public safety, declining confidence in elite- and expert-guided government policies, and deeply felt anxieties and insecurities related to rapid social change and the economic stagflation of the 1970s fostered a political environment conducive to the southern strategy and populist law-and-order appeals (Flamm, 2005; Edsall and Edsall, 1992). Tough law-and-order agendas appealed to whites’ anxieties about the rising crime rate, which were entangled with other anxieties about their “loss of stature and privileges as economic opportunities narrowed and traditionally marginalized groups gained new rights” (Kohler-Hausmann, 2010, p. 73; see also Rieder’s [1985] classic account of whites’ anxieties about crime in the 1960s and 1970s).

Furthermore, the increase in the crime rate coincided with the heyday of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. Although there were many factors contributing to the rise in crime, this coincidence created an opportunity for claims that greater investment in social and other programs did not reduce crime. Some commentators argued that social programs actually contributed to rising crime rates by fostering a host of personal pathologies they claimed were the “real” roots of crime (O’Connor, 2008).

A number of politicians contended that a weak work ethic, poor parenting practices, and a culture of dependency had all been created or exacerbated 14 See Appendix A for a supplementary statement by Ricardo Hinojosa on the passage, which

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Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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Emerging research is helping to illuminate why the southern strategy was so effective in politicizing and further racializing the law-and-order issue, and why the war on drugs and other shifts toward harsher penal policies did not face more effective countervailing pressures and coherent counterarguments in opposition. The southern strategy was soon followed by the rise of a number of new social movements and interest groups whose messages and actions in some ways reinforced the punitive direction in which the nation was beginning to move. They included the victims’ rights movement, the women’s movement, the prisoners’ rights movement, and organized opposition to the death penalty. Advocating for victims and against criminal defendants became a simple equation that helped knit together politically disparate groups.15 Unlike prisoners’ movements in other Western countries at the time, the movement in the United States was closely associated with broader issues involving race, class, and various struggles around injustice. As a consequence, criminal activity became associated in the public mind with controversial issues relating to race and rebellion, which fostered zero-sum politics that reduced public sympathy for people charged with crimes and thus was conducive to the promotion of harsher penal policies (Gottschalk, 2006, Chapter 7). Finally, legal battles over the death penalty “legitimized public opinion as a central, perhaps the central, consideration in the making of penal policy,” which further enshrined the zero-sum view of victims and defendants in capital and noncapital cases (Gottschalk, 2006, p. 12 and Chapters 8-9).

Although African Americans experienced the largest absolute increases in incarceration rates, there is evidence that the black community was divided in its support for tough crime control policy. On the one hand, as discussed in further detail below, blacks have been generally less supportive than whites of punitive criminal justice policies, and survey data from as early as 1977 and 1982 show that blacks are less likely than whites to support severe sentences for violent crimes (Blumstein and Cohen, 1980;

Miller et al., 1986; Secret and Johnson, 1989; Bobo and Johnson, 2004;

Western and Muller, 2013). And while the attitudes of both black and white Americans have become less punitive over the past few decades, whites are 15 For further discussion of how the political mobilizations against rape and domestic violence contributed to a more punitive political atmosphere, see Gottschalk (2006, Chapters 4-6), Bumiller (2008), and Richie (2012).

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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consistently more likely than blacks to report that court sentences are not harsh enough (Blumstein and Cohen, 1980; Miller et al., 1986; National Center for State Courts, 2006; Secret and Johnson, 1989; Western and Muller, 2013).

On the other hand, new research also finds that some black leaders supported tougher laws, most notably in the early years of the war on drugs, while others were fierce opponents. The growing concentration of violence, drug addiction, and open-air drug markets in poor urban neighborhoods; disillusionment with government efforts to stem these developments; and widening class divisions among blacks help explain why some African American community leaders endorsed a causal story of the urban crisis that focused on individual flaws, not structural problems, and that singled out addicts and drug pushers as part of the “undeserving poor” who posed the primary threat to working- and middle-class African Americans (Fortner, 2013; Barker, 2009, p. 151; Gottschalk, forthcoming; Cohen, 1999; Dawson, 2011).16 Other black leaders endorsed what Forman (2012) describes as an “all-of-the-above” approach, calling for tougher sanctions and aggressive law enforcement but also for greater attention and resources to address underlying social and economic conditions. According to Forman, this helps explain why African American political, religious, and other leaders in Washington, DC, the only black-majority jurisdiction that controlled its sentencing policies (after home rule was granted in 1973), supported tougher crime policy. Opposition to these policies remained muted, even after their disproportionate toll on blacks, especially young black men, became apparent. Forman (2012) attributes this stance to the stigmatizing and marginalizing effects that contact with criminal justice had on former prisoners and their families, inhibiting them from taking public positions or engaging in political debates about these policies. Black leaders, politicians, and advocacy groups clearly were not the main instigators of the shift to harsh crime policy, but at least in some instances, their actions helped foster this turn, in many cases unwittingly.

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16 Similar attitudes often are seen among segments of the Latino community that favor stronger drug and anticrime laws. This is evident in how Latinos split their vote on Proposition 19—the State of California’s proposition to legalize marijuana—in 2010 (Hidalgo, 2010).

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

The Growth of Incarceration in the United States: Exploring Causes and Consequences

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and status conflicts between native Protestants and newly arrived Irish Catholics provided context for the temperance and prohibition movements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see, e.g., Gusfield, 1963). In the war on drugs, politicians characterized addicts and pushers as “responsible not only for their own condition” but also for many of the problems plaguing inner-city neighborhoods where blacks predominated, including crime, eroding urban infrastructure, and widespread social and economic distress (Kohler-Hausmann, 2010, p. 74).

President Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1971 after initially having embraced greater investment in treatment, rehabilitation, and public health to combat substance abuse (Musto and Korsmeyer, 2002, Chapter 2). Two years later, Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, who had authorized the assault on Attica and was trying to reposition himself politically in the face of the southern strategy and a possible run for the White House, led the state in enacting some of the nation’s toughest drug laws. These new laws mandated steep minimum sentences for the sale and use of controlled substances, notably heroin and cocaine.17 New York’s new drug laws also influenced other states that sought to enact tough lengthy sentences for drug offenses.

These opening salvos in the war on drugs drew significant support from some leading black politicians and community leaders, as well as from some residents in poor urban areas (Kennedy, 1997, pp. 370-371; Barker, 2009;

Fortner, 2013; Forman, 2012; Meares, 1997). For example, some black activists in Harlem supported the Rockefeller drug laws, as did the city’s leading black newspaper (Barker, 2009; Fortner, 2013). In New York City and elsewhere, black leaders called for tougher laws for drug and other offenses and demanded increased policing to address residents’ demands that something be done about rising crime rates and the scourge of drug abuse, especially the proliferation of open-air drug markets and the use of illegal drugs such as heroin and then crack cocaine (Barker, 2009; Fortner, 2013;

Forman, 2012).

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