Academic journal article McGill Sociological Review

Framing Punishment: Expert Selection and Punitive Ideology in the News

Academic journal article McGill Sociological Review

Framing Punishment: Expert Selection and Punitive Ideology in the News

Article excerpt

In 1899, a group of idealistic reformers led by Lucy Flowers, Jane Addams and a number of other settlement house workers, social scientists, judges, and progressives worked to establish Chicago's model juvenile court. The court was infused with an ideal of "child-saving" and worked closely with the burgeoning fields of social work, criminology, psychology and sociology to identify and treat the influences that led young individuals toward offending (Rosenheim et al. 2002; Tanenhaus 2004). These reformers believed that delinquents were fundamentally different from criminals, and were at a critical stage in which intervention could divert them from becoming an adult offender. The supporters of the court provided an institutional outlet for the expertise produced by the burgeoning fields of sociology and criminology (Glueck and Glueck 1950; Healy and Bronner 1916; Jordan 1999; Shaw 1930; Thrasher 1927), and occasionally offered a site for the application and refinement of theories on the causes of and remedies to delinquency. The rehabilitative ideal of the juvenile court suggested that through combining social scientific insight and humanitarian compassion, the plight of the urban poor might be ameliorated. Though few would claim that the court ever fully met these lofty standards, and harsh and punitive treatment was common in many juvenile reform institutions (Bernstein 2002; Humes 1997), rehabilitation stood as the dominant ideological framework through which the state related to juvenile offenders for much of the twentieth century (Jordan 1999; Rosenheim et al. 2002).

However, in the late 1970s a series of punitive reforms to the juvenile court began taking root across the country (Fagan and Zimring 2000; Feld 1999). Efforts at rehabilitation had fallen into disfavor, and an attitude that punishment was the only appropriate response to delinquency took hold. States that founded pioneer juvenile courts at the turn of the century, such as Illinois and New York, saw their legislatures pass laws that declared that certain young people were criminals, not delinquents, and mandated that their trials be held in adult criminal courts. In the aftermath of these 'mandatory waiver' or 'automatic transfer' reforms, the number of young people held in detention facilities skyrocketed (Feld 1999). A number of scholars have correctly identified the roles of racial bias (Bortner, Zatz, and Hawkins 2000; Dorfman and Schiraldi 2001; Feld 2005; Rios 2008), the rise of tough-on-crime politics (Beckett and Sasson 2003; Beckett 1997; Gottschalk 2006; Harris 2007) and shifts in the practice of governance and the structure of the state (Garland 2001; Simon 2009) in explaining how ideological shifts in the orientation of the court and the polity legitimated the restraining of the rehabilitative ideal and a turn toward a more punitive approach toward young offenders.

This study provides a theoretical exploration of one of the mechanisms that may explain how punitive ideologies displaced rehabilitative ideologies as hegemonic frameworks for understanding delinquency as a social problem and establishing the types of interventions that were likely to be successful. This study reports the results of a content analysis of expert selection and issue framing within Chicago Tribune coverage of juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice policy during a period in which a particularly punitive reform was being debated in the early 1980s. Building on scholarship that highlights the growing role of prosecutors and executive state officials in governing social problems (Simon 2009), I argue that by favoring police and prosecutors as experts, The Chicago Tribune reinforced limits around what kinds of explanations for the causes of and appropriate responses to delinquency were acceptable in the press. This study finds that expert selection is associated with ideological framing, and suggests that expert selection in media coverage is one plausible mechanism in explaining why particular ideologies appear dominant or subordinate at various historical moments. …

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