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The Politics of ImprisonmentHow the Democratic Process Shapes the Way America Punishes Offenders$
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Vanessa Barker

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195370027

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195370027.001.0001

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The Case of California

The Case of California

Neopopulism and Retribution

(p.47) 3 The Case of California
The Politics of Imprisonment

Vanessa Barker (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter details the case study of California. It shows how a democratic process based on polarized populism led to a retributive penal regime, with high rates of imprisonment for all kinds of offenders. It analyzes the success of the crime victims movement, facilitated by the direct democracy measures such as the initiative process, in transforming the moral calculus of punishment. The victims movement helped to bring about a more emotive, passionate, and punitive approach to crime control, making crime victims' pain central to the justification, legitimation, and authority of criminal law and penal sanctioning. The chapter analyzes how a more conservative populist movement challenged state authority, weakened social trust, and demanded a tough law‐and‐order approach to crime and fears over growing ethnic and racial diversity, intensifying social divisions and social exclusion.

Keywords:   populism, contentious politics, thin democracy, low social trust, initiative process, victims movement, retribution, crime control, three‐strikes laws

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