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Crime and Punishment in the United States - Immediate and Long-Term Reforms From a Marxist Perspective

NCJ Number
Crime and Social Justice Issue: 18 Dated: (Winter 1982) Pages: 38-45
T Platt
Date Published
8 pages
The author analyzes the failure of the New Left to take crime seriously in the late 1960's and 1970's or generate progressive alternatives to the politics of law and order and then outlines specific reforms for the criminal justice system from the Marxist perspective.
Although the shift to the right in criminal justice and penal policies has been evident in many advanced capitalist countries, the argument that harsher punishment combats crime has been undermined by U.S. victimization surveys showing that crime rates remained stable throughout the 1970's. Before a new round of progressive activism begins, it is valuable to examine the heritage of the New Left -- organizations of government and corporate reformers, petty bourgeois liberals, and working class activists whose efforts contributed to the demise of progressive reform. These groups had a simplistic view of the police, seeing them as direct instruments of the ruling class, and a romantic and utopian approach to prisons. They dismissed any correctional reforms short of revolution as tokenism and stressed the primacy of individual rights over rehabilitation. The New Left also failed to address the problem of street crime in working class communities and offered no realistic long-term alternatives to criminal justice under capitalism. Policy recommendations propose to bring equal justice back to the bail system, abolish mandatory sentences and restore indeterminate sentences, combat racism in criminal justice professionals, and prosecute corporate crime and racist violence. Other recommendations are to increase employment to lower incarceration rates, restore funding for community alternatives to imprisonment, and support prisoners' human rights. The paper includes 34 references.