Contributions to mass incarceration: a study on the tough-on-crime policies of the Clinton Administration and their institutional effects
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 09:20 authored by Prudence Kidman
Over the past 50 years, the United States has produced an exceptionally punitive criminal justice system resulting in the world’s largest prison population. Attempts to explain its rapid emergence have amassed an extensive and interdisciplinary body of research. Generally speaking, there is presently no determined causal theory of “mass incarceration” phenomena. Nonetheless, institutional frameworks have provided greater insight into the epistemic underpinnings of crime and punishment. Social, historical and economic theories have shown that institutions engender meaning and context which can shape action and ideas and facilitate systematic change accordingly. Analysis of penal policy development from a political institutional perspective is somewhat lacking within such literature. As a result, it will be the framework of this paper. Discursive institutionalism operates under the principle that political institutions are built upon a dynamic force of structure and agency that enable power. Accordingly, ideas and discourse are privileged as explanatory tools because they represent the various contextual nuances of policy development in a holistic way. Utilizing the methodological toolkit of discursive institutionalism, we will undertake a case-study analysis of the discursive processes and outcomes of the Clinton administration approach to crime. Our specific analytical focus will be upon the executive-level politics engaged in during the policy-development stages preceding the passage of the largest, most costly anticrime bill in American history. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 represented the Democratic Party’s first “tough-on-crime” foray. It was also enacted at a time when crime was in decline. Yet examination of the Clinton administration’s pursuit of punitive criminal justice and mass incarceration outcomes is perceptibly incomplete if not in terms of academic rigour then at least focus. Our intention is to evaluate the material and symbolic consequences of these outcomes in terms of both structure and agency.