American Journal of Criminal Justice

, Volume 43, Issue 2, pp 197–221 | Cite as

The “Tough on Crime” Competition: a Network Approach to Understanding the Social Mechanisms Leading to Federal Crime Control Legislation in the United States from 1973–2014

  • John A. ShjarbackEmail author
  • Jacob T. N. Young


The increase in punitive sentiment in America over the last four decades is frequently attributed to changes in criminal justice policies and programs. While scholars have studied the impact of legislation and policy on justice system outcomes, less attention has focused on the role of political actors in legislative bodies who are largely responsible for enacting criminal justice legislation. The current study addresses this gap by examining the social organization of federal crime control policy in the U.S. Congress over a forty-two year period (1973–2014). Drawing from research on social network mechanisms, we examine whether crime control legislation was more politically attractive relative to other legislative topics, and whether Democrats and Republicans pursue these policies by working together or competing against each other. Our results provide novel insight into the mechanisms that contributed to the punitive movement at the federal level.


Social network analysis Crime control Congress Homophily Mechanism Exponential random graph model 


  1. Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, H.R. 4472, 109th Cong. (2006). Retrieved from
  2. Anderson, J. E. (1990). Public policymaking: An introduction. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  3. Barker, V. (2009). The politics of imprisonment: How the democratic process shapes the way America punishes offenders. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Beale, S. S. (1996). Federalizing crime: Assessing the impact on the federal courts. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 543(1), 39–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beckett, K. (1997). Making crime pay: Law and order in contemporary American politics. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Borgatti, S. P., & Everett, M. G. (1997). Network analysis of 2-mode data. Social Networks, 19(3), 243–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Campbell, J. E. (1982). Cosponsoring legislation in the US Congress. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 7(3), 415–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Campbell, M. C., & Schoenfeld, H. (2013). The transformation of America’s penal order: A historicized political sociology of punishment. American Journal of Sociology, 118(5), 1375–1423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Campbell, M. C., Vogel, M., & Williams, J. (2015). Historical contingencies and the evolving importance of race, violent crime, and region in explaining mass incarceration in the United States. Criminology, 53(2), 180–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Computer Crime Enforcement Act, H.R. 2816, 106th Cong. (2000). Retrieved from
  11. Cronin, T. E., Cronin, T. Z., & Milakovich, M. E. (1981). The U.S. versus crime in the streets. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Cullen, F. T., Clark, G. A., & Wozniak, J. F. (1985). Explaining the get tough movement: Can the public be blamed? Federal Probation, 49(2), 16–24.Google Scholar
  13. Dagan, D., & Teles, S. M. (2016). Prison break: Why conservatives turned against mass incarceration. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Federal Law Enforcement Dependents Assistance Act of 1996, S. 2101, 104th Cong. (1996). Retrieved from
  15. Fowler, J. H. (2006a). Connecting the congress: A study of cosponsorship networks. Political Analysis, 14(4), 456–487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fowler, J. H. (2006b). Legislative cosponsorship networks in the US house and senate. Social Networks, 28(4), 454–465.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Frank, O., & Strauss, D. (1986). Markov graphs. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 81, 832–842.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Frost, N. A., & Clear, T. R. (2012). New directions in correctional research. Justice Quarterly, 29(5), 619–649.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gallup (2016). In U.S., concern about crime climbs to 15-year high. Retrieved from
  20. Garland, D. (2001). The culture of control: Crime and social order in contemporary society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  21. Gest, T. (2001). Crime and politics: Big government’s erratic campaign for law and order. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Geyer, C. J., & Thompson, E. A. (1992). Constrained Monte Carlo maximum likelihood for dependent data. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 54, 657–699.Google Scholar
  23. Goldwater, B. (1964). Acceptance speech. 28th Republican National Convention. Retrived from
  24. Gottschalk, M. (2006). The prison and the gallows: The politics of mass incarceration in America. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Handcock, M.S., Hunter, D., Butts, C.T., Goodreau, S.M., & Morris, M. (2003). statnet: An R package for the statistical modeling of social networks. Web page
  26. Handcock, M.S., Robins, G., Snijders, T., Moody, J., Besag, J. (2003). Assessing degeneracy in statistical models of social networks, Center for Statistics and the social sciences. Working paper no. 39.Google Scholar
  27. Harrison Act of 1914, Pub. L. No. 63–223, 38 Stat. 785.Google Scholar
  28. Hatch, O. G. (1993). The role of congress in sentencing: The United States sentencing Commission, mandatory minimum sentences, and the search for a certain and effective sentencing system. Wake Forest Law Review, 28(1), 185–198.Google Scholar
  29. Holland, P. W., & Leinhardt, S. (1981). An exponential family of probability distributions for directed graphs. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 76, 33–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hunter, D. R., Goodreau, S. M., & Handcock, M. S. (2008). Goodness of fit of social network models. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 103, 248–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Jacobs, D., & Jackson, A. L. (2010). On the politics of imprisonments: A review of systematic findings. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 6(1), 129–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kappeler, V. K., Blumberg, M., & Potter, G. W. (1994). The mythology of crime and criminal justice. Prospect Heights: Waveland Press Inc..Google Scholar
  33. King, R., Mauer, M., & Young, M. (2005). Incarceration and crime: A complex relationship. Washington, D.C.: The Sentencing Project.Google Scholar
  34. Koehly, L. M., Goodreau, S. M., & Morris, M. (2004). Exponential family models for sampled and census network data. Sociological Methodology, 34, 241–270.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Lazersfeld, P. F., & Merton, R. K. (1954). Friendship as social process: A substantive and methodological analysis. In M. Berger (Ed.), Freedom and control in modern society (pp. 18–66). New York: Van Nostrand.Google Scholar
  36. Lusher, D., Koskinen, J., & Robins, G. (2013). Exponential random graph models for social networks: Theory, methods, and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Lynch, M. (2010). Sunbelt justice: Arizona and the transformation of American punishment. Stanford: Stanford Law Books.Google Scholar
  38. Marion, N. E. (1994). A history of federal crime control initiatives: 1960–1993. Westport: Praeger Publishers.Google Scholar
  39. Matusow, A. J. (1984). The unraveling of America: A history of liberalism in the 1960s. New York: Harper & Row, New York.Google Scholar
  40. Mauer, M. (2001). The causes and consequences of prison growth in the USA. Punishment & Society, 3(1), 9–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. McClurg, S. D., & Lazer, D. (2014). Political networks. Social Networks, 36(1), 1–4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. McPherson, J. M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Cook, J. (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks. Annual Review of Sociology, 27(1), 415–444.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Mears, D. P. (2010). American criminal justice policy: An evaluation approach to increasing accountability and effectiveness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Miller, L. (2008). The perils of federalism: Race, poverty, and the politics of crime control. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Patterson, S. C. (1959). Patterns of interpersonal relations in a state legislative group: The Wisconsin assembly. Public Opinion Quarterly, 23(1), 101–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Poole, K. T., & Rosenthal, H. (1991). Patterns of congressional voting. American Journal of Political Science, 35(1), 228–278.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice. (1967). The challenge of crime in a free society. Washington, D.C: US Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  48. REDEEM Act, S. 2567, 113th Cong. (2014). Retrieved from
  49. Reitz, K. R. (1996). The federal role in sentencing law and policy. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 543(1), 116–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rice, S. A. (1927). The identification of blocs in small political bodies. American Political Science Review, 21(3), 619–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Richman, D. (2006). The past, present, and future of violent crime federalism. Crime and Justice, 34(1), 377–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Rivera, M. T., Soderstrom, S. B., & Uzzi, B. (2010). Dynamics of dyads in social networks: Assortative, relational, and proximity mechanisms. Annual Review of Sociology, 36(1), 91–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Roberts, J. V. (1992). Public opinion, crime, and criminal justice. In M. Tonry (Ed.), Crime and justice: A review of research (pp. 99–180). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  54. Robins, G., Pattison, P., Kalish, Y., & Lusher, D. (2007). An introduction to exponential random graph (p*) models for social networks. Social Networks, 29(2), 173–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rolfe, M. (2012). Voter turnout: A social theory of political participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Routt, G. C. (1938). Interpersonal relationships and the legislative process. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 195(1), 129–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Scheingold, S. A. (1991). The politics of street crime: Criminal process and cultural obsession. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Simon, J. (2007). Governing through crime: How the war on crime transformed American democracy and created a culture of fear. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  59. Sinclair, B. (2012). The social citizen: Peer networks and political behavior. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Snijders, T. A. B. (2002). Markov chain Monte Carlo estimation of exponential random graph models. Journal of Social Structure, 3(2), 1–40.Google Scholar
  61. Snijders, T. A. B., Pattison, P. E., Robins, G. L., & Handcock, M. S. (2006). New specifications for exponential random graph models. Sociological Methodology, 36(1), 99–153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Stemen, D., Rengifo, A., & Wilson, J. (2006). Of fragmentation and ferment: The impact of state sentencing policies on incarceration rates, 1975–2002. Washington, D.C.: Final Report to the US Department of Justice.Google Scholar
  63. Stinchcombe, A. L., Adams, R., Heimer, C. A., Scheppele, K. L., Smith, T. W., & Taylor, D. C. (1980). Crime and punishment in America: Changing attitudes in America. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  64. The Sentencing Project (2012). The expanding federal prison population. Retrieved from
  65. Tonry, M. (1995). Malign neglect: Race, crime, and punishment in America. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  66. Tonry, M. (2004). Thinking about crime: Sense and sensibility in American penal culture. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Truman, D. (1959). The congressional party: A case study. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  68. Victor, J. N., & Ringe, N. (2009). The social utility of informal institutions: Caucuses as networks in the 110th U.S. house of Representatives. American Politics Research, 37(5), 742–766.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Volstead Act of 1919, Pub. L. No. 66–66, 41 Stat. 305.Google Scholar
  70. Walker, S. (1993). Taming the system: The control of discretion in criminal justice, 1950–1990. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Wang, P. (2013). Exponential random graph model extensions: Models for multiple networks and bipartite networks. In D. Lusher, J. Koskinen, & G. Robins (Eds.), Exponential random graph models for social networks (pp. 115–129). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  72. Wang, P., Sharpe, K., Robins, G. L., & Pattison, P. E. (2009). Exponential random graph models for affiliation networks. Social Networks, 31(1), 12–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Wasserman, S., & Pattison, P. E. (1996). Logit models and logistic regressions for social networks: I. An introduction to markov graphs and p*. Psychometrika, 60(3), 401–425.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Western, B. (2006). Punishment and inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  75. Wise, C. R. (1991). The dynamics of legislation: Leadership and policy change in the congressional process. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  76. Young, J. T. N. (2011). How do they “end up together”? A social network analysis of self-control, homophily, and adolescent relationships. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 27(3), 251–273.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Zimring, F. (2006). The great American crime decline. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Southern Criminal Justice Association 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Criminal JusticeUniversity of Texas at El PasoEl PasoUSA
  2. 2.School of Criminology and Criminal JusticeArizona State UniversityPhoenixUSA

Personalised recommendations