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The Dog That Did Not Bark: Punitive Social Views and the Professional Middle Classes

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 8 Issue: 3 Dated: July 2006 Pages: 287-312
Elizabeth K. Brown
Date Published
June 2006
26 pages
Using data from the U.S. General Social Survey (GSS), this study assessed claims by David Garland (2001) that changes in the social-control views of America's "professional middle classes" fueled the rise in the punitiveness of such policies over the last 35 years.
This study did not find support for Garland's conclusion that "liberal elites, best-educated middle classes, and public-sector professionals" became more punitive from 1974 through 1998, reflecting the views of the rest of the U.S. population on the need for more punitive sentencing. The study does not question Garland's conclusion that America's social-control policies have become more punitive, but it does argue against attributing this trend to the changing views of the "professional middle classes." Additional research should consider whether the professional middle classes have become the "dog that did not bark," in that they are less influential in policymaking for a variety of reasons. Such research might focus on why policymakers who are directly responsible for the change toward more severe sanctions either believe that such policies are objectively a more effective means of social control or believe that their decisions reflect what the vast majority of citizens want. The study examined the views on capital punishment and court sentencing of respondents to the U.S. General Social Survey for 1974, 1980, 1988, and 1993. In profiling respondents, the "financial-educational elite" were defined as individuals who had 4 years of higher education and had minimum total family incomes that placed them in the upper 10 percent regarding income levels. The "liberal elite" were defined to have the same characteristics as the "financial-educational elite" but with the additional characteristic of placing themselves ideologically between the "middle of the road" and the "extremely liberal." Tables, figure, notes, and references