Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear

By Bell, Jeannine | Law & Society Review, March 2008 | Go to article overview

Governing through Crime: How the War on Crime Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear


Bell, Jeannine, Law & Society Review


Governing through Cnme: How the War on Cnme Transformed American Democracy and Created a Culture of Fear. By Jonathan Simon. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pp. 330. $29.95 cloth.

In Governing through Cnme, Simon explores the state's exploitation of ordinary Americans' fears about crime and security over the past four decades. In arguing that a variety of state actors govern though crime, Simon meticulously traces the development of the so-called war on crime from its creation during the Johnson Administration through the contemporary war on terrorism. Simon-who selfconsciously attempts to provoke debate on the negative consequences of American leaders' focus on crime-aims to depict the culture of fear that has been created around crime and its implications for American life and American democracy in a variety of contexts.

The book's first four chapters, "Power, Authority, and Criminal Law," "Prosecutor-in-Chief," "We Are the Victims," and 'Judgment and Distrust," display the structural, historical, and theoretical basis for governing through crime. After setting out some of the most visible attributes of the war on crime in Chapter 1-crime rate and imprisonment statistics and the structural arrangement of power in the regulation of crime-in Chapter 2, Simon outlines the metamorphosis of executive power in the form of presidents' and state governors' quest to define themselves and their objectives in relation to crime. He tracks the executive branch's prosecution complex from the mid-1960s, when President Lyndon Johnson first declared a "war on crime" as part of his Great Society through the second President Bush's war on terrorism. Simon convincingly argues that the changes implemented as a result of governing through crime have not necessarily increased security. Rather, governors' and presidents' shouldering of the mantle of the prosecutor has increased spending on crime control and has also expanded criminal sanctions while creating powerful vulnerabilities.

In Chapters 3 and 4, Simon explores the impact of the war on crime on legislatures and courts. Chapter 3 explores legislators' manipulation of the public's fear of crime. Simon contends that at the federal level, governing through crime in the contemporary period originated with the Safe Streets Act of 1968. Among other things, this act changed the rules of evidence and authorized new federal funding for law enforcement, corrections, and courts. This legislation, according to Simon, created a harsh but lasting representational legacy that "to be for the people, legislators must be for victims and law enforcement, and thus they must never be for (or capable of being portrayed as being for) criminals or prisoners as individuals or as a class" (p. 100). The next chapter addresses the jurisprudence of crime, beginning with the Warren Court's criminal procedure revolution and continuing through its rollback during the Burger and Rehnquist courts. …

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