Policy distraction: sentencing reform adoption as a diversion from rising social inequality
Crime, Law and Social Change
Since the mid-1970s, more than two-thirds of U.S. states adopted some combination of sentencing reforms. This paper assessed the possibility that reforms were, at least, partly a reflection of a concerted effort of policymakers to divert attention away from social and economic inequalities. Event History Analysis was used to measure the relative change in the odds of adoption for four main reforms based on changes in several state-level economic, social, political, and demographic indicators. With some mixed findings, the analysis suggests that a number of state characteristics, including higher economic inequality (Gini coefficient), prior reform history, increased percent black, increased percent Hispanic (most models), increased unemployment, and, to a lesser extent, poverty rates significantly increased the rate of adoption for some reforms. The results suggest, among other things, that reforms were more likely to be passed when economic inequality increased.
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Harmon, M. G. (2019). Policy distraction: sentencing reform adoption as a diversion from rising social inequality. Crime, Law and Social Change, 1-21.