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U.S. Criminal Justice in the Reagan Era: An Assessment

NCJ Number
Crime and Social Justice Issue: 29 Dated: (1987) Pages: 58-68
T Platt
Date Published
11 pages
This article examines continuities and changes between the Reagan and pre-Reagan eras in selective aspects of the U.S. criminal justice system in the 1980's.
Although many aspects of Reagan's program predate his administration, he was able to implement the ideas of the radical Right in ways that will endure into the 1990's. His legacy includes a conservative U.S. Supreme Court and Federal judiciary, full implementation of the death penalty, introduction of preventive detention, expansion of the prison system, increased participation of the private sector in criminal justice, and the definition of the politics of criminal justice in terms of a right-wing 'law and order' consensus. Although the crime rate has steadied and declined in certain areas, the level of 'street' crime is still extraordinarily high. With the fiscal crisis in the public sector and emphasis on budgetary constraint, it is difficult to raise the revenues required to support the expanding penal population. Under the current state of prison overcrowding, prison life has become dangerous and dehumanizing for both prison staff and inmates. The Reagan administration, however, does not reflect nor has it managed to change public opinion on many criminal justice issues. There is not strong support for wholesale executions, prison construction, or the criminalizing of abortion and pornography. 3 notes and 21 references.