Saturday, August 22, 2015

I think the tide is really turning...

I don't plan to post in response to a lot of news stories---see our Facebook group for a really active stream of articles interesting to P&S folks---but this one really struck me. Yesterday, The New York Times published an article titled, "Joe Biden’s Role in ’90s Crime Law Could Haunt Any Presidential Bid."

The article was actually less powerful than the title implies, but reading those titular words caused an avalanche of images and stories to fall through my mind, including, of course, the arguments in Simon (2007) and Beckett (1997) about how important tough on crime is---now was---to politicians. Just think about some of the salient illustrations of "governing through crime" and "making crime pay":

  • the Bush v. Dukakis debate and the TV ads of Willy Horton
  • an image of President Bush Sr. talking about the drugs his personnel bought across from the White House
  • President Clinton flying down to Arkansas to preside over the execution of mentally retarded death row inmate Ricky Ray Rector
  • a flood of name-sake laws
  • (my own personal favorite) claims that Gov. Schwarzenegger (in the 2000s) had abandoned crime victims by endorsing rehabilitative policies for California's prisons

Then I was reminded of the various pieces of evidence we have seen over the last 5-10 years that suggest this thing that we have been studying really is coming to an end.

To provide some context, the 1994 federal Violent Crime Bill was a big step in the "war on crime" (for more, see Simon 2007, Governing Through Crime; Parenti 1999, Lockdown America; among others). The bill was a big package of goodies for the tough-on-crime politicians who supported it (almost everyone). One of the reasons I (and others) find this crime bill so significant is that it tied federal funding to state's adoption of mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Together, this helped massively increase the incarceration rate, and fund prisons in which to put our newly sentenced convicts. (I also think of this as a nice example of coercive isomorphism---here's money to do what we want you to do.) It also created a federal three strikes law that some other states copied. Others will remember the federal 1994 Crime Bill because it removed Pell Grants---ways that prisoners were able to fund their education behind bars. It also criminalized gang activity and it introduced the "drug free zones" that Simon (2007) writes about as part of the "official graffiti" populating cities in the 1990s. It also directed millions of dollars to policing (especially to hire more officers). In many ways, this bill has helped further increase---and maintain---our really high incarceration rate.

The 1994 Crime Bill was considered a major victory for Bill Clinton, but it's also one that---apparently (as I didn't know this)---Biden has taken major credit, recently calling it the "1994 Biden Crime Bill"---as he was a major force behind it.

Now, a little more than 20 years after this law's passage, this law is apparently so unpopular that it might actually hurt Biden should he decide to run for president. (Apparently, he says mixed things about the bill, touting some of its positive effects but also wishing they had pushed back on some other features.) According to the New York Times article, Biden "will need to show his views have evolved." Specifically, Jeremy Haile, a main source in the article and a lawyer with the Sentencing Project, said,
“Any Democrat that is interested in gaining support among the current electorate, particularly the progressive civil rights communities, is going to have to say that previous tough-on-crime policies were a mistake.” 
Now, this is still pretty limited evidence for my question about "is the tide turning"---Haile and the article are mainly talking about Biden's ability to "win support from the young voters who were critical to President Obama’s election victories." Nevertheless, I do think it is a pretty interesting development.

It seems that a week doesn't go by without a major criminal justice issue isn't discussed in a major news outlet---or fake news outlet (e.g., Last Week Tonight with John Oliver). Things that we (scholars) figured out years or even decades ago are finally getting airtime on something other than NPR. This is also a time that we (again, scholars) might actually be able to make a bigger impact as people are finally ready to listen to what we have to say.

We are still a bit more than a year away from the 2016 election, but I imagine we'll see a lot more about criminal justice issues and the new politics of crime. Both personally (i.e., politically) and professionally (i.e., as a punishment geek), this is a very exciting time.

Postscript: 1994 

It seems like there are certain years that stand out in penal history. I tend to think of 1976/1977 as a major one for the beginning of the "severity revolution," the path towards mass incarceration, tough on crime mania, or whatever we want to call it. This is when California---the bellwether for penal rehabilitation and correctionalism---abandoned its indeterminate sentencing scheme (with bipartisan support) and declared that the purpose of prison was punishment. Now, some people are talking about 2008 as one of the turning points (Aviram 2015). As always, we recognize that that signs of change predate a watershed moment, but there are some years that just seem to stand out.

I think that 1994 was kind of a watershed year in many ways (I'm probably not the first to say this, so apologies to whoever did). This was the year that California's passed its (on steroids) version of the Three Strikes law passed (after having been rejected the previous year as a laughably bad idea), inspired by Polly Klaas's tragic kidnap-murder the year before. (The 1994 Violent Crime Bill also authored its federal version of the Three Strikes law.) This is the time when we see very clearly that governing through crime was a bipartisan effort, and no longer the sole domain of Dixiecrats or Republicans. 1996 is another major year, with the passage of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the Prison Litigation Reform Act, but by then, a lot has happened.

1994 is around the time when we see most clearly a disconnect between rhetoric and reason. 1994 was the second year of declining crime rates and part way into the period of America's steepest increase in its incarceration rate (see Zimring 2001, "Imprisonment Rates and the New Politics of Criminal Punishment"). The crime rate had peaked in 1992, the same year as the LA riots/rebellion/protests following the Rodney King beating.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Book Roundup: UC Press Edition

In addition to two great books from Calavita and Jenness (2014) and Aviram (2015) discussed in a previous post, UC Press has several new offerings in 2015 that should be of interest to the P&S crowd. I highlight three below:

Joachim J. Savelsberg's Representing Mass Violence: Conflicting Responses to Human Rights Violations in Darfur examines how the framing or representation of episodes of mass violence, focusing on the Darfur genocide, varies across countries and groups, and shapes responses to this violence. From the blurb:
How do interventions by the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court influence representations of mass violence? What images arise instead from the humanitarianism and diplomacy fields? How are these competing perspectives communicated to the public via mass media? Zooming in on the case of Darfur, Joachim J. Savelsberg analyzes more than three thousand news reports and opinion pieces and interviews leading newspaper correspondents, NGO experts, and foreign ministry officials from eight countries to show the dramatic differences in the framing of mass violence around the world and across social fields. Representing Mass Violence contributes to our understanding of how the world acknowledges and responds to violence in the Global South.
Note that this book is Open Access and available online for free!

Michael Welch gives us Escape to Prison: Penal Tourism and the Pull of Punishment, which explores the growing industry of prisons as tourist attractions worldwide. From the blurb:
The resurrection of former prisons as museums has caught the attention of tourists along with scholars interested in studying what is known as dark tourism. Unsurprisingly, due to their grim subject matter, prison museums tend to invert the “Disneyland” experience, becoming the antithesis of “the happiest place on earth.” In Escape to Prison, the culmination of years of international research, noted criminologist Michael Welch explores ten prison museums on six continents, examining the complex interplay between culture and punishment. From Alcatraz to the Argentine Penitentiary, museums constructed on the former locations of surveillance, torture, colonial control, and even rehabilitation tell unique tales about the economic, political, religious, and scientific roots of each site’s historical relationship to punishment.
Finally, Marjorie S. Zatz and Nancy Rodriguez have written Dreams and Nightmares: Immigration Policy, Youth, and Families. This book examines immigration policy with particular emphasis on its effects on children. From the blurb:
Dreams and Nightmares takes a critical look at the challenges and dilemmas of immigration policy and practice in the absence of comprehensive immigration reform. The experiences of children and youth provide a prism through which the interwoven dynamics and consequences of immigration policy become apparent. Using a unique sociolegal perspective, authors Zatz and Rodriguez examine the mechanisms by which immigration policies and practices mitigate or exacerbate harm to vulnerable youth. They pay particular attention to prosecutorial discretion, assessing its potential and limitations for resolving issues involving parental detention and deportation, unaccompanied minors, and Dreamers who came to the United States as young children. The book demonstrates how these policies and practices offer a means of prioritizing immigration enforcement in ways that alleviate harm to children, and why they remain controversial and vulnerable to political challenges.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New Position of Interest! U.C. Irvine

Those of you on the market will be excited to see another great job opportunity. UC Irvine's Criminology, Law and Society department is hiring:
an advanced Assistant or an early Associate Professor, who would contribute to our strength in the interdisciplinary field of law and society, and our growing concentration on issues of inequality and justice. The ideal candidate will be a scholar whose work is attentive to class, race, ethnicity, gender, and/or other politics of difference, and who specializes in socio-legal studies or in both criminology and law and society. Successful candidates for this position will have an outstanding record of research, evidence of the ability to attract extramural funding, and evidence of excellent teaching and mentoring.  
To ensure your application is given full consideration, files should be completed by October 1, 2015. Priority will be given to applications received by that date; however, applications will be accepted until the position is filled. The position will begin July 1, 2016 (teaching duties to begin Fall 2016).  
Candidates must have a doctoral degree in a related field. Applications must be uploaded electronically. Applications will be accepted through the on-line Recruit system:

Friday, August 14, 2015

How Great is the American-European Punishment Divide?

A few days ago, I read Marion Vannier's review of Jonathan Simon's Mass Incarceration on Trial (in Theoretical Criminology). Offering a generally favorable take, the review's only critique or "caution" centered on Simon's perhaps overly optimistic assessment of the European situation:
Mass Incarceration implies that European states have strong and ongoing ties with human rights and have successfully regulated imprisonment (pp. 141–142, 165) and countered penal populism (p. 169). Despite having developed a wide array of tools to preserve prisoners’ dignity and created agencies to report and prevent human rights violations, the story of imprisonment in Europe is also disconcerting. Recent media reports have documented how the number of inmates committing suicide in England and Wales has dramatically increased as a result, in part, of poor and inadequate health care. Similarly in Belgium, an inmate was recently granted the right to be euthanized, as the conditions of prison had become unbearable (Fink, 2014). And in 2012, the French prison, Les Baumettes, was placed under the spotlight for holding prisoners in degrading conditions. Dignity, human rights, may all be appealing to foster what Simon calls a ‘new common sense’. They may also, and somewhat ironically, propel a misleading message to the rest of the world. Their existence does not ensure that prisoners will not be exposed to neglect and inhumane conditions. Without continuous action to challenge the status quo, inmates’ undignified reality is at risk of being veiled by the availability of luring humanitarian concepts.
Whether a difference of opinion or a difference in emphasis, Vannier's critique highlights an interesting problem in P&S research: the fairly routine characterization of Europeans as more committed to dignity and less-harsh punishment than Americans, compared to the myriad examples illustrating points of similarity. Both seem to be accurate portrayals, so how do we reconcile these competing descriptions?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

First Digest of Recently Published Work by P&S Members

As compiled by Miltonette Craig:


Bohon, Stephanie, Conley, Meghan, and Brown, Michelle. (2014). Unequal Protection under the Law: Encoding Racial Disparities in the Case of Smith v. Georgia. American Behavioral Science, 58, 1910-1926.

Brown, Michelle. (2014). Of Prisons, Gardens, and the Way Out. Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, 64, 67-85.

Brown, Michelle. (2014). Visual Criminology and Carceral Studies. Theoretical Criminology, 18, 176-197.

Bumiller, Kristin. (2015). Bad Jobs and Good Workers: The Hiring of Ex-Prisoners in a Segmented Economy. Theoretical Criminology, 19, 336-354.

Burkhardt, Brett C. (2015). Where Have All the (White and Hispanic) Inmates Gone? Comparing the Racial Composition of Private and Public Adult Correctional Facilities. Race and Justice, 5, 33-57.

Burkhardt, Brett C. (2014). Private Prisons in Public Discourse: Measuring Moral Legitimacy. Sociological Focus, 47, 279-298.

Fleury-Steiner, Benjamin. (2015). Effects of Life Imprisonment and the Crisis of Prisoner Health. Criminology & Public Policy, 14. DOI: 10.1111/1745-9133.12132.

Fleury-Steiner, Benjamin, Kaplan, Paul, and Longazel, Jamie. (2015). Racist Localisms and the Enduring Cultural Life of America’s Death Penalty: Lessons from Maricopa County, Arizona. Studies in Law, Politics, and Society, 66, 63-85.

Goodman, Philip. (2014). Race in California’s Prison Fire Camps for Men: Prison Politics, Space, and the Racialization of Everyday Life. American Journal of Sociology, 120, 352-394.

Goodman, Philip, Page, Joshua, and Phelps, Michelle. (2014). The Long Struggle: An Agonistic Perspective on Penal Development. Theoretical Criminology. DOI: 10.1177/1362480614547151

Green, David A. (2015). U.S. Penal-Reform Catalysts, Drivers, and Prospects. Punishment & Society, 17, 271-298.

Kaufman, Nicole. (2015). Prisoner Incorporation: The Work of the State and Non-Governmental Organizations. Theoretical Criminology. DOI: 10.1177/0123456789123456.

Kerrison, Erin M. (2015). White Claims to Illness and the Race-Based Medicalization of Addiction for Drug-Involved Former Prisoners. Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice, 31.

LaChance, Daniel, and Kaplan, Paul. (2015). The Seductions of Crimesploitation: Apprehending Sex Offenders on Primetime Television. Law, Culture, and the Humanities. DOI: 10.1177/1743872115578070.

Longazel, Jamie. (2014). Rhetorical Barriers to Mobilizing for Immigrant Rights: White Innocence and Latina/o Abstraction. Law & Social Inquiry, 39, 580-600.

Rubin, Ashley T. (2015). A Neo-Institutional Account of Prison Diffusion. Law & Society Review, 49, 365-399.

Rubin, Ashley T. (2015). Resistance or Friction: Understanding the Significance of Prisoners’ Secondary Adjustments. Theoretical Criminology, 19, 23-42.

Van Cleve, Nicole Gonzales and Mayes, Lauren. (2015). Criminal Justice Through “Colorblind” Lenses: A Call to Examine the Mutual Constitution of Race and Criminal Justice. Law & Social Inquiry, 40, 406-432.


Brown, Michelle. (2014). “Which Question? Which Lie?”: Reflections on Payne v. Tennessee and the “Quick Glimpse” of Life. In Austin Sarat (Ed.), The Punitive Imagination: Law, Justice, and Responsibility (127-156). Birmingham: University of Alabama Press.

Fleury-Steiner, Benjamin and Longazel, Jamie (2013). The Pains of Mass Imprisonment. New York: Routledge.

LaChance, Daniel. (2015). Rehabilitating Violence: White Masculinity and Harsh Punishment in 1990s Popular Culture. In Charles Ogletree, Jr., and Austin Sarat (Eds.), Punishment and Popular Culture (161-196). New York: New York University Press.

Longazel, Jamie and van der Woude, Maartje (special issue editors) (2014). The Negotiated Expansions of Immigration Control. Law & Social Inquiry, 39(3). 

If you would like your recently published book or article to be included in the next digest,
please send your citation information to Miltonette Craig ( by September 30.