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  • Studies in American Political Development, Volume 21, Issue 2
  • October 2007, pp. 230-265

Frontlash: Race and the Development of Punitive Crime Policy

  • Vesla M. Weaver (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 November 2007

Civil rights cemented its place on the national agenda with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, fair housing legislation, federal enforcement of school integration, and the outlawing of discriminatory voting mechanisms in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Less recognized but no less important, the Second Reconstruction also witnessed one of the most punitive interventions in United States history. The death penalty was reinstated, felon disenfranchisement statutes from the First Reconstruction were revived, and the chain gang returned. State and federal governments revised their criminal codes, effectively abolishing parole, imposing mandatory minimum sentences, and allowing juveniles to be incarcerated in adult prisons. Meanwhile, the Law Enforcement Assistance Act of 1965 gave the federal government an altogether new role in crime control; several subsequent policies, beginning with the Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 and culminating with the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, ‘war on drugs,’ and extension of capital crimes, significantly altered the approach. These and other developments had an exceptional and long-lasting effect, with imprisonment increasing six-fold between 1973 and the turn of the century. Certain groups felt the burden of these changes most acutely. As of the last census, fully half of those imprisoned are black and one in three black men between ages 20 and 29 are currently under state supervision. Compared to its advanced industrial counterparts in western Europe, the United States imprisons at least five times more of its citizens per capita.

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Nicholson-Crotty and J. Meier Kenneth , “Crime and Punishment: The Politics of Federal Criminal Justice Sanctions,” Political Research Quarterly 56 (2003): 119–26

Malcolm M. Feeley , “Crime, social order and the rise of neo-Conservative politics,” Theoretical Criminology 7 (2003): 111–30

Herbert Blumer , “Social Problems as Collective Behavior,” Social Problems 18 (1971): 298306

William H. Riker , Agenda Formation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993)

Michael Rogin , “Wallace and the Middle Class: The White Backlash in Wisconsin,” Public Opinion Quarterly 30 (1966): 98108

Michael J. Klarman , “How Brown Changed Race Relations: The Backlash Thesis,” Journal of American History (1994): 81

Christopher R. Adamson , “Punishment after Slavery: Southern State Penal Systems, 1865–1890,” Social Problems 30 (1983): 555–69

Paul M. Kellstedt , “Media Framing and the Dynamics of Racial Policy Preferences,” American Journal of Political Science 44 (2000): 239–55

Paul M. Kellstedt , The Mass Media and the Dynamics of American Racial Attitudes (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003)

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Studies in American Political Development
  • ISSN: 0898-588X
  • EISSN: 1469-8692
  • URL: /core/journals/studies-in-american-political-development
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