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Politics of Injustice: Crime and Punishment in America

NCJ Number
Katherine Beckett; Theodore Sasson
Date Published
286 pages
This analysis of recent research on the crime issue's role in politics and culture and the way in which making crime a political issue has affected policymaking concludes that growing punitiveness reflects politicians' efforts to shift public policy on issues such as crime, addiction, and poverty toward harsher, more repressive solutions.
The text reviews literature on crime rates and crime trends, on the representation of crime in political discourse and the mass media, on public attitudes toward crime, on crime-related activism, and on public policy. It describes and critiques anticrime policies adopted in the rush to be tough on crime and predicated on the opinion that crime and drug abuse are mainly the consequence of immoral individuals and a permissive criminal justice apparatus. It argues that this policy shift rests on unsound evidence and is an ineffective response to crime and that many new policies are inhumane and reflect a tendency to scapegoat, exclude, and stigmatize those now regarded as members of an underclass. These policies have resulted from political activism. A variety of religious, social, and political organizations are now challenging practices and policies associated with the war on crime, including capital punishment, bans on needle exchange programs, and harsh mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders. Several alternative policies not only would address crime and drug abuse in a more effective and humane way, but also would reduce the enormous human, social, and fiscal costs of incarcerating over 1.8 million people. These include social investment to reduce poverty and inequality, reorienting drug policies toward harm reduction, establishing restorative justice programs, increasing the emphasis on social reintegration of former inmates, improving gun control, and using more democratic forms of community policing. Figures, chapter notes, index, and approximately 500 references