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The Politics of Early Release, 1991–1995

The Politics of Early Release, 1991–1995

(p.122) Chapter Five The Politics of Early Release, 1991–1995
Building the Prison State
Heather Schoenfeld
University of Chicago Press

This chapter argues that the early 1990s were a turning point in the development of the carceral state. It demonstrates that lawmakers in Florida could have decided not to build more prisons. However, their earlier choices to build prisons and release offenders before the expiration of their sentences created a political opportunity for law enforcement organizations. Law enforcement argued, largely through the news media, that the state was protecting criminals’ rights at the expense of crime victims’ right to more prison space for criminal offenders. In an increasingly competitive partisan environment, the attention to the problem of “early release” caused legislators from both political parties to support longer prison terms and more prisons. In addition, the chapter argues that Democratic lawmakers’ resolve to oppose prisons was weakened by national Democrats’ move away from traditional liberal solutions to crime and by black leaders’ embrace of racial representation and racial uplift as means to address the unfinished legacy of the Civil Rights Movement.

Keywords:   early release, vicitms' rights, sheriffs, Stop Turning Out Prisoners, sentencing, prosecutors, racial representation, Democrats, Lawton Chiles, news media

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