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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Readers may question our decision to focus on the federal system as opposed to crime control legislation at the state level. We took this approach simply because the federal system data were freely available through the Library of Congress’ digital archives. We are unaware of any databases or central locations where these types of measures (e.g., sponsorship and co-sponsorship of bills) are available at the state level.

  2. 2.

    This distinction is operationalized and discussed in more detail in the measures section.

  3. 3.

    Upon examination, we were unable to detect any differences between the 30 bills without cosponsors and 221 bills in the network.

  4. 4.

    For the fixed vertex set V, the two-mode network is the union of two disjoint subsets A and B, m = |A|, n = |B| such that the adjacency matrix is nXm. That is, sponsors (n) of bills (m).

  5. 5.

    Summaries as well as the full text for each bill are provided on the “beta.congress.gov” website. Additionally, Appendix 2 provides a categorization of all crime control and non-crime control bills.

  6. 6.

    There were 4 Independents over the period. They are excluded from analysis here due to insufficient size to generate stable estimates of model parameters.

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Correspondence to John A. Shjarback.

Appendices

Appendix 1

A: Plot of 1013 Signers of 120 Bills in the House of Representatives

figurea

Democrats = Blue; Republicans = Red; CC Bills = Black; NCC Bills = White

B: Plot of 291 Signers of 101 Bills in the Senate

figureb

Democrats = Blue; Republicans = Red; CC Bills = Black; NCC Bills = White

Appendix 2

Table 3 Categorization of Crime Control and Non-Crime Control Bills

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Shjarback, J.A., Young, J.T.N. 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. Am J Crim Just 43, 197–221 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12103-017-9395-5

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Keywords

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