December 28, 2010
SOCIOLOGY AND LAW: THE POLITICS OF DEFINING WHAT IS CRIMINAL
Hagan, Who Are the Criminals?: The Politics of Crime Policy from the Age of Roosevelt to the Age of Reagan (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2010) (From the bookjacket: "How did the United Stated go from being a country that tries to rehabilitate street criminals and prevent white-collar crime to one that harshly punishes common lawbreakers while at the same time encouraging corporate crime through a massive deregulation of business? Why do street criminals get stiff prison sentences, a practice that has led to the disaster of mass incarceration, while white-collar criminals, who arguably harm more people, get slaps on the wrist--if they are prosecuted at all? . . ." ""John Hagan argues that the recent history of American criminal justice can be divided into two eras--the age of Roosevelt (roughly 1933-1973) and the age of Reagan (1974 to 2008). A focus on rehabilitation, corporate regulation, and the social roots of crime in the earlier period was dramatically reversed in the later era. In the age of Reagan the focus shifted to the harsh treatment of street crimes, especially drug offenses, which disproportionally affected minorities and the poor and resulted in wholesale imprisonment. And the same time, a massive deregulation of business provided new opportunities, incentives, and even rationalization for white-collar crime. . . ." "The time for moving beyond Reagan-era crime policies is long overdue, Hagan argues. The understanding of crime must be reshaped and we must reconsider the relative harms and punishments of street and corporate crimes." Americans, though acknowledging the super rich and (begrudgingly) the super poor, love to think of themselves as living in a essentially classless society. Any meaningful discussion of America's crime policy gives the lie to that thought. The American criminal justice system, during what Hagan refers to as the "age of Reagan,' became increasing harsh toward one class (minorities and the poor), while becoming increasingly lenient toward another class (mainly white middle-class, and business.).