The End of an Era? Understanding the Contradictions of Criminal Justice Reform

Katherine Beckett*, Anna Reosti, Emily Knaphus

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Recent drops in the U.S. rate of incarceration have triggered much discussion regarding the fate of mass incarceration. Some observers suggest that the political consensus in favor of getting tough on crime has been shattered and replaced by a new consensus that the prison population must be downsized. In this article, we explore the possibility that neither legislation nor public discourse around crime and punishment has shifted so dramatically, and that the cultural dynamics surrounding reform efforts may undermine the prospects of comprehensive sentencing reform. To assess these hypotheses, we analyze trends in criminal justice policy reform from 2000 to 2013 and newspaper stories and editorials on criminal justice reform since 2008. While we do find important examples of changing rhetoric and policy, we suggest that these changes do not constitute a “paradigm shift.” Rather, they are indicative of a more subtle, complex, and contradictory modification of the way punishment is conceived, discussed, and ultimately enacted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-259
Number of pages22
JournalAnnals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • criminal justice reform
  • drug law reform
  • drug war
  • mass incarceration
  • media studies

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'The End of an Era? Understanding the Contradictions of Criminal Justice Reform'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this