Who Are the Criminals? The Politics of Crime Policy from the Age of Roosevelt to the Age of Reagan

By John Hagan | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
The President's Secret Crime Report

Ronald Reagan was elected president in November 1980 with an agenda that included making the country safer from violent forms of street crime. This goal seemed quite sensible to most voters at the time. The Reagan administration promised a “get tough” approach to the punishment of crime. There would be reasons for questions later, especially about the very punitive response to crack cocaine, the drug whose epidemic use spread rapidly through America's racial ghettos and spiked a fearful, massive, and enormously expensive growth in American reliance on imprisonment that has lasted for more than a quarter century.

But there was steadfast agreement in the innermost circle surrounding President Reagan in 1980, a circle that included his personal lawyer, William French Smith, who became attorney general, and Reagan's closest political adviser, Edwin Meese, who succeeded as attorney general when Smith returned to his California law practice. Both Smith and Meese believed it was time to lift what a presidential board soon called “the veil of fear over crime.” Fear of crime was the administration's overriding concern.

Early in his administration Ronald Reagan appointed a presidential advisory board with the mandate to, in conjunction

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