Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Who Are the Criminals?

Who Are the Criminals?: The Politics of Crime Policy from the Age of Roosevelt to the Age of Reagan

With a new afterword by the author John Hagan
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 336
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Who Are the Criminals?
    Book Description:

    How did the United States 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? InWho Are the Criminals?, one of America's leading criminologists provides new answers to these vitally important questions by telling how the politicization of crime in the twentieth century transformed and distorted crime policymaking and led Americans to fear street crime too much and corporate crime too little.

    John Hagan argues that the recent history of American criminal justice can be divided into two eras--the age of Roosevelt (roughly 1933 to 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 disproportionately affected minorities and the poor and resulted in wholesale imprisonment. At the same time, a massive deregulation of business provided new opportunities, incentives, and even rationalizations for white-collar crime--and helped cause the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession.

    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. In a new afterword, Hagan assesses Obama's policies regarding the punishment of white-collar and street crimes and debates whether there is any evidence of a significant change in the way our country punishes them.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4507-1
    Subjects: Law, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Prologue Washington Crime Stories
    (pp. 1-9)

    It was more than “a beer at the White House” moment when President Barack Obama rolled up his sleeves and sat down with Henry “Skip” Gates and James Crowley in the back garden. Gates was the president’s African American friend from Harvard arrested a few weeks earlier on his own front porch in Cambridge, and Crowley was the white arresting officer from the Cambridge Police Department. The White House invitation was atonement for the president, in a rare moment of recklessness, remarking to the press that the Cambridge police had behaved “stupidly.” The meticulously scripted and flawlessly staged photo opportunity,...

  2. Chapter 1 The President’s Secret Crime Report
    (pp. 10-30)

    Ronald Reagan was elected president in November 1980 with an agenda that included making the country safer from violent forms of street crime. This goal seemed quite sensible to most voters at the time. The Reagan administration promised a “get tough” approach to the punishment of crime. There would be reasons for questions later, especially about the very punitive response to crack cocaine, the drug whose epidemic use spread rapidly through America’s racial ghettos and spiked a fearful, massive, and enormously expensive growth in American reliance on imprisonment that has lasted for more than a quarter century.

    But there was...

  3. Chapter 2 Street Crimes and Suite Misdemeanors
    (pp. 31-68)

    One of the lessons of the Reagan administration’s suppression of the crime report is that the actual occurrence of crime and the fear of it can be quite distinct. Crime does not need to increase for the fear of crime to become prominent. More worrisome is that groundless fears about crime have a lot to do with what and whom a society calls criminal.

    For example, in many parts of the world, including the United States, there are false fears that immigration causes crime. Sometimes the combined fears of immigration and crime are so great that immigration itself is treated...

  4. Chapter 3 Explaining Crime in the Age of Roosevelt
    (pp. 69-100)

    The classical theories of crime in America developed over a lengthy period, from the Great Depression and the age of Roosevelt to the age of Reagan. Viewed broadly, the age of Roosevelt spans forty years, from about 1933 to 1973. The classical explanations of crime reflected in many ways the progressive politics of this era, in contrast to the more conservative politics of the age of Reagan.

    My dating of the eras of Roosevelt and Reagan includes preludes and postludes, and this categorization admittedly involves risks of overgeneralization. Still, for the reasons indicated in chapter 1, there is considerable value...

  5. Chapter 4 Explaining Crime in the Age of Reagan
    (pp. 101-136)

    The University of California at Berkeley established the first nonsociological doctoral degree program in criminology in 1966, the year California elected Ronald Reagan its governor. At Berkeley and elsewhere, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Law Enforcement Assistance Agency (LEAA) had launched new state and local crime control programs and spurred much of the early growth of the new field of criminology with government funding (Savelsberg 1994). Yet the trajectory was hardly smooth or uncontroversial. Despite an early emphasis on policing supported by LEAA funding, by the late 1960s the Berkeley School of Criminology had emerged as a battleground in the...

  6. Chapter 5 Framing the Fears of the Streets
    (pp. 137-167)

    The classical American theories of crime, from class-based structural anomie theory to state-based radical conflict theory, emerged in what I broadly have called the age of Roosevelt, from 1932 to 1968. However, the age of Reagan, from about 1968 to 2008, reconfigured the world of crime and criminal justice. A critical collective framing theory can further help to explain this criminological turn, a change that in important ways upended the study of and response to crime. The upending involved a move away from rehabilitation and toward the incapacitation of street criminals, accompanied by a move away from the prosecution of...

  7. Chapter 6 Framing the Freeing of the Suites
    (pp. 168-212)

    At the heart of a critical collective framing perspective on the age of Reagan is a realignment in the relative regulation of the streets and suites of America. The shining city on the hill that Reagan rhapsodized about was a city where the streets were highly controlled and the business suites were much less constrained.

    Sean Wilentz (2008) speculates that Reagan’s frequent capacity to imaginatively recreate scenarios in ways that pleased him was rooted in the darkness of his small-town midwestern childhood and a dysfunctional family life dominated by an alcoholic father. Reagan often spoke in ways that denied such...

  8. Chapter 7 Crime Wars, War Crimes, and State Crimes
    (pp. 213-256)

    The framing processes discussed so far have ranged widely across America’s social landscape, from the nation’s streets to its business suites. This chapter looks beyond the demonization of our city streets and the deregulation of our corporate suites to the international landscape of war, state crime, and international law. The expanded view casts into relief a framing competition between the denial and deflection of responsibility for war crimes by state perpetrators and an opposing denunciation by international legal bodies. Although war crimes are discussed broadly, for purposes of illustration, the discussion primarily addresses the responsibility of states for torture and...

  9. Epilogue The Age of Obama?
    (pp. 257-268)

    A 2008Timemagazine cover portrayed the newly elected President Barack Obama looking like Franklin Roosevelt, a cigarette holder jutting skyward from his jaw, riding in an open-top car down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House. The cover heralded “The New, New Deal,” and the accompanying story was titled “The New Liberal Order.” The story recalled Obama’s earlier election-night celebration in Chicago’s Grant Park and contrasted it to the night forty years earlier, when 10,000 people gathered in the same park to protest the Democratic Convention’s ratification of Lyndon Johnson’s Vietnam War and the convention’s ill-fated nomination of Hubert Humphrey....

  10. Afterword to the Paperback Edition Street Crime and Suite Crime in the Era of Obama
    (pp. 269-292)

    I began this book with President Barack Obama’s angry outburst that the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police had “behaved stupidly” in arresting his African American friend Professor Henry “Skip” Gates on the front porch of Gates’s home near Harvard University. What provoked this rare display of anger by the president known as “No Drama Obama”? The likely explanation is that the arrest of Professor Gates exposed a sensitivity shared among visible minorities that they are vulnerable to unjustified police coercion no matter where or who they are.

    Generations of African Americans recall the first warnings they heard about the police. In the...