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Expendable Lives: Race and Segmented Representation in the Politics of Crime and Criminal Justice in the United States

Published onMay 26, 2022
Expendable Lives: Race and Segmented Representation in the Politics of Crime and Criminal Justice in the United States
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Expendable Lives: Race and Segmented Representation in the Politics of Crime and Criminal Justice in the United States
Expendable Lives: Race and Segmented Representation in the Politics of Crime and Criminal Justice in the United States
Description

One of the most enduring debates in the study of the evolution of criminal justice policy in the United States concerns the role of public opinion. Two viewpoints have thus far dominated pertinent scholarship, with one claiming that criminal justice policy has been genuinely responsive to changes in public opinion, and the other suggesting that incumbent administrations have simulated responsiveness to public attitudes toward criminal justice which they strategically molded themselves. Drawing in part on political science literature that has as yet been little used within criminology, this article seeks to advance an alternative viewpoint. We argue that, in the context of American criminal justice policy since the 1970s, political responsiveness to public opinion has been neither genuine nor so much simulated as it has been what political scientists describe as “segmented”—that is, geared toward specific subgroups whose views are privileged for electoral reasons. Our analysis singles out for scrutiny the crucial period between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s and the alignment of criminal justice policymaking during those years with preferences held and promoted by lobby groups with strong financial incentives at the expense of disadvantaged minorities. In so doing, we combine foci and insights that have typically been accorded discrete consideration in prior critical scholarship, which allows us to demonstrate the aggregate effect that different lobbying activities can have on criminal justice, whether directly and by design or indirectly and by default.

 

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