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Contemporary Justice Review: Issues in

Criminal, Social, and Restorative Justice
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Explaining the cultural and symbolic

resonance of zero tolerance in
contemporary criminal justice
Karim Ismaili
St. John's University
Published online: 14 Sep 2010.

To cite this article: Karim Ismaili (2003) Explaining the cultural and symbolic resonance of zero
tolerance in contemporary criminal justice, Contemporary Justice Review: Issues in Criminal, Social,
and Restorative Justice, 6:3, 255-264, DOI: 10.1080/1028258032000115903

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1028258032000115903


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St. John’s University
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Zero tolerance has been described as a “popular slogan for politicians talking tough.” It is also a slogan with
international advocates. In addition to the US, politicians from Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and South Africa
have praised this aggressive policing strategy. While this is a testament to the ease with which ideas diffuse between
nations in the contemporary world, it does not explain why this particular idea is so popular. Nor does it explain why
zero tolerance animated so many in the mid- to late-1990s. In order to answer these questions adequately, it is
important to place zero tolerance in a wider social, political, and economic context. As this article argues, zero
tolerance resonates in contemporary culture because it symbolizes a variety of tensions and anxieties found in late
modern society. These anxieties are revealed through the often volatile and contradictory politics of law and order;
through the routine scrutiny of marginal populations in society; and through the high degree of public tolerance for
both of these developments. Recent research suggests that the rise of free market neoliberalism and social
conservatism in western industrialized democracies provides an important backdrop against which these anxieties
emerge. Imbued with meaning and populist appeal, it is the idea of zero tolerance, along with its cultural and
symbolic resonance in contemporary criminal justice, which requires explanation.

Keywords: Zero tolerance; Policing; Criminology; Crime policy; Social control; Social exclusion


Zero tolerance is a phrase used in a variety of social contexts. Whether it refers to a school’s
policy on bullying or an employer’s policy on workplace discrimination, zero tolerance is
meant to impose order through the literal interpretation and strict enforcement of rules. The
phrase has become part of the everyday vocabulary of public officials, opinion leaders, and
the media. Increasingly, zero tolerance has come to represent how a variety of institutions
respond to perceived problems or issues.
In the field of criminal justice, zero tolerance is most commonly associated with a style of
policing that aggressively targets neighborhood incivilities such as panhandling, public
drunkenness, vandalism, graffiti, and loitering for the purposes of prostitution. Proponents of
this proactive, confident, and assertive policing strategy believe that if left unchecked, minor
law-breaking activities can create an atmosphere conducive to more serious crime (Burke,
1998). Nowhere has this theory been tested more resolutely than in New York City where,
beginning in 1994, the police department initiated a quality-of-life campaign against petty
offenders. The campaign was characterized by an intolerance for minor offending (between

ISSN 1028-2580 print; ISSN 1477-2248 online © 2003 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1028258032000115903

1993 and 1998 misdemeanor arrests increased by 66%), an increase in the use of stop-and-
frisk searches for guns and other illegal weapons, more checks for outstanding warrants, and
more fingerprint collection (Harcourt, 2001). The dramatic reduction in recorded crime that
coincided with the campaign emboldened police officials to the extent that in 1998 the police
leadership abandoned the quality-of-life policing slogan and replaced it with zero tolerance
(Skolnick, 1999).
The NYPD’s aggressive policing strategy has “inspired a rancorous debate among
criminologists, journalists, police executives, and the public” (Eck & Maguire, 2000, p. 225).
Some, for example, have questioned whether the police department deserves the credit for the
crime reduction of the 1990s (Blumstein & Wallman, 2000; Karmen, 2000). Others have
contested the assumption that zero tolerance policing actually reduces serious crime
(Harcourt, 2001a). A recent addition to the debate contends that zero tolerance policing
constitutes a hyper-aggressive practice that has been unfairly used to banish ill-fitting people
from the city’s public spaces (McArdle, 2001). Many have also been concerned that zero
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tolerance policing has led to the violation of individual rights, an erosion of trust between the
police and the community, and an exacerbation of divisions along economic and racial lines.
As important and varied as these debates are, they have not prevented zero tolerance policing
from becoming both institutionalized in New York, and widely credited with spearheading
the city’s dramatic reduction in crime.
The perceived success of zero tolerance has made it a “popular slogan for politicians
talking tough” (Dixon, 2000, p. 1). It is also a slogan with international advocates. In addition
to the US, politicians from Australia, France, Honduras, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa,
and the UK have praised this aggressive policing strategy. While this is a testament to the
ease with which ideas diffuse between nations in the contemporary world (Best, 2001), it
does not explain why this particular idea is so popular. Nor does it explain why zero tolerance
animated so many in the mid- to late-1990s.
This paper will not assess the success or failure of zero tolerance policing but will instead
explore what the idea of zero tolerance means in the context of US criminal justice at this
historical juncture. It is clear that zero tolerance is a phrase and idea imbued with meaning
and populist appeal. But why does it resonate in the culture? What does it symbolize? Why
is zero tolerance so pervasive today? In order to answer these questions adequately, it is
important to place zero tolerance in a wider social, political and economic context. As this
paper will argue, zero tolerance resonates in contemporary culture because it symbolizes a
variety of tensions and anxieties found in late modern society.1 These are revealed through
the often volatile and contradictory (Garland, 1996; O’Malley, 1999) politics of law and
order; the routine scrutiny of marginal populations in society; changes in both the rationale
and nature of social control; and the high degree of public tolerance for all of these
developments. Recent research suggests that the rise of free market neoliberalism and social
conservatism in western industrialized democracies provides an important backdrop against
which these tensions and anxieties emerge (Garland, 2001; McArdle & Erzen, 2001;
O’Malley, 1999). It is to this argument that I will now turn.


The Rise of Neoliberalism and Social Conservatism
Garland (2001, p. 79) has described the period between 1950 and 1973 as one that featured
“a remarkable period of growth and rising living standards” in the developed industrialized
world. The postwar years were characterized by virtually full employment, steadily rising
wages, progressive taxation, economic security, vibrant trade unions, massive infrastructure

investments, the spread and consolidation of consumer capitalism, and a general faith in
Keynesian demand management and the welfare state. Membership of the middle classes
grew, as did generous welfare programs designed to reduce social and economic inequality.
Increases in crime during this period were viewed as a result of poverty and deprivation.
Criminological knowledge was concerned “ultimately to understand the individual
criminal, the correlates of criminality, and the ways in which social patterns and
environment left their imprint upon individual offenders” (Garland, 2001, p. 43). The
primary objective of penal policy was the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders into
society. Prisons were used only as a last resort. The period was thus broadly integrative,
emphasizing social solidarity, social justice, progressive social change, and a concern for
overcoming social divisions (Garland, 1996). The prevailing sentiment was that the state
could do the job of both steering and rowing society (Braithwaite, 2000). As a result, there
was general faith in the ability of public officials and experts to shape policy and promote
continued prosperity.
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All of this was to change in the 1970s and 1980s, as the welfare state experienced
successive economic recessions, labor management conflicts, and political instability.

In this recessionary context, the tools of Keynesian demand management failed to bring supply and demand
into line . . . Within a decade, mass unemployment re-appeared, industrial production collapsed, trade union
membership massively declined, and the labor market restructured itself in ways that were to have dramatic
social significance in the years to come (Garland, 2001, p. 81).

The impact of de-industrialization and job loss in the manufacturing sector continues to
reverberate today. The demise of unskilled and semiskilled jobs that had become the
backbone of working class employment from the beginning of the industrial revolution
forced a large segment of the population to adjust to a new marketplace that valued mobility
and transferable skills. If these skills were not acquired, the prospects for similar security
through employment were poor. The expansion of the service and high-tech sectors meant
that an increasing share of available employment opportunities fell into one of two
categories: part-time positions geared heavily towards women, or high-skilled positions
aimed primarily at graduates (Garland, 2001). The result of this economic restructuring was
an ever-widening gap between those who had the skills to compete in the new economy, and
those who did not. While many in the latter group eventually integrated into the mainstream
economy, a significant portion—what Anderson (1999) calls the “submerged tenth” in the
US—relied more heavily on welfare provision. As the welfare state was rolled back, this
vulnerable group became alienated from mainstream institutions altogether, creating a
serious challenge for the state (Anderson, 1999). The 1970s and 1980s thus saw an
unraveling of the solidarity project, a severely undermined welfare state, and a loss of faith
in the ability of experts and public officials either to steer or row society.
The economic restructuring of this period was accompanied by a series of social and
cultural transformations that were to ripple through a variety of institutions (Garland, 2001).
Changes in the structure of the family and the household—underwritten in large part by
welfare state prosperity and economic security—were brought on by declining fertility rates,
increases in divorce, the emergence of the single parent home, and a tolerance for alternative
family forms. The suburbanization of society and the proliferation of electronic mass media
had significant implications for social relations, consumer capitalism, public services, and the
transparency of government. Finally, the general democratization of social life and culture
led to increased demands for equal rights, spurred the growth of pluralist and identity politics,
and created the moral individual. Less constrained by group demands and absolutist moral
codes, the moral individual placed greater value on freedom, including the freedom to
express oneself in consumer society, and on mutual tolerance (Garland, 2001).

All of these shifts were to have important consequences for both crime and crime control.
The growing consumer culture created more criminal opportunities. These, in turn, were
made more attractive by the changes in social ecology and culture which reduced the
influence of both situational and informal controls. Added to this mix was a large cohort of
baby boomer boys, an at-risk group that became the driving force behind a steady increase
in crime. In sum, “the new social and cultural arrangements made late modern society a more
crime-prone society” (Garland, 2001, p. 91).
The economic and social turbulence of the 1970s and 1980s generated a backlash against
both the perceived inadequacies of the welfare state, and the permissive, selfish culture that
was allegedly destabilizing society. Although a political movement against Keynesian
economics and moral individualism had been a presence in the US as early as the 1960s
(Beckett, 1997), it was in the 1970s and 1980s that it gained momentum. The new suburban
middle class, which increasingly saw bureaucracies and the welfare system as huge drains on
public revenues, bolstered this vital reactionary movement. Despite the fact that the same
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group had earlier benefited from generous welfare state provision, this significant portion of
the electorate was now distressed by its diminishing returns. It was in this context that a
neoliberal, free market ethos took hold of government and society.2 But political leaders like
Thatcher, Reagan, and Bush were not only motivated by the ideological need to fashion an
unencumbered marketplace. They also harbored deep hostility towards a society that had, in
their view, become overly permissive, unruly, and dependent on welfare. In this marriage of
free market liberalism and neoconservative authoritarianism, the “new right” was born. The
stage was set for the politics of law and order, the emergence of criminal justice practices
such as zero tolerance, and the larger exclusionary social project we see thriving today.

The Politics of Law and Order

The emergence of crime as a normal social fact of late modern society was to test the ability
of the state to provide adequate protection and security for all of its residents. This challenge
was particularly acute in the 1970s due to a steady and widespread increase in the fear of
crime (Garland, 1996). While some of these fears were rational, especially for those who
lived in impoverished urban centers, television and other mass media sources structured,
reinforced, and spread this concern about crime across society. This is significant because the
media often presented distorted images of crime, fueling fear in specific subpopulations—
most notably in the elderly and the affluent—whose objective risk of victimization,
especially violent victimization, was relatively low. In this climate, liberal crime policy came
under severe attack, and its political viability was shaken. The traditional deference granted
to criminal justice policy experts quickly eroded under a barrage of criticism from those who
argued that faith in rehabilitation was misplaced, and from others who believed that the
system’s commitment to reform was questionable.
With fear of crime rising and penal policy undermined, the overtly populist politics of law
and order emerged to fill the vacuum. Put forward as a new right alternative to failed liberal
criminal justice policy, this approach to crime was to emphasize expressive policies and
punishments in order to re-assert the state’s control over crime. For conservatives who
subscribed to it, this tough posture was the only sensible response to a welfare state that had
coddled criminals, entrenched welfare dependence, and undermined traditional social
controls. The expressive policies proved popular not only to conservatives: anyone fearful of
crime, troubled by welfare, or concerned about the nature of cultural change was a potential
supporter. Able to secure electoral victories throughout the US in the 1980s and 1990s, this
social conservative strand of the new right left a major imprint on the operations of the
criminal justice system. Zero tolerance, mandatory sentences, “three strikes and you’re out,”

parole abolition, community notification orders, boot camps, the routine use of prison, and
the reduction of treatment and educational programs for offenders—all are policies that have
been proposed and implemented by this powerful movement. They have remained, or in
some cases have been extended, even when more liberal governments have been elected. The
punitive logic is in place; to challenge it is to jeopardize future electoral success.
O’Malley (1999) has pointed out that alongside expressive, punitive criminal justice
policies, a number of seemingly contradictory non-punitive measures such as mediation and
restitution have also been adopted by new right governments. Often administered by non-
governmental agencies, these policies are best understood as an attempt to devolve traditional
state responsibilities to the free market. In this devolution, it is inevitable that contradictory
new right policies will emerge; it is an outcome of the contradiction rooted in the free market
and social conservative strands of the movement. The former strand also explains the growth
of private prisons, private security, and private treatment programs.
Devolution of traditional state responsibilities to the free market has been accompanied by
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the growth of crime prevention programs, and a host of other initiatives, that have
dramatically transformed the role of the state in the crime control arena. Garland (2001, p.
124) identifies these developments as fitting within what he calls the state’s “responsibiliza-
tion strategy.” By linking up with the private sector and the community, the reach of the state
is extended, and an enhanced network of control is created that complements the formal
criminal justice system. This strategy not only recognizes the limited ability of the sovereign
state to control crime in late modern society (Garland, 1996), but also “represents a new form
of ‘governing-at-a-distance’ that introduces principles and techniques of government that are
by now quite well established in other areas of social and economic policy” (Garland, 2001,
p. 127). The reconfigured state thus lashes out against crime through expressive and populist
criminal justice policy to seem in control and thereby attract electoral support. It
simultaneously devolves responsibility and nurtures partnerships with the private and non-
profit sectors, extending its reach, but also signaling that it has a weakened capacity to
control crime.
Both of these impulses are clearly visible in the recent emergence of zero tolerance. The
state’s need to exert control over crime through expressive measures both heightens and
spreads the general anxiety about crime. Politicians have learned that an already anxious
public is likely to support those with strong anti-crime views. Increasingly, these views are
punitive and intolerant, and are publicized by media outlets that exploit stories about crime
and crime policy because they are profitable. The expressions of outrage and intolerance over
crime, along with its constant presence in the culture, legitimize public fear and further
reinforce the punitive logic. As ideas like zero tolerance become an acceptable mode of
control, its logic too is devolved through the state’s responsibilization strategy. The result is
an increasingly intolerant society that is judgmental and exclusionary rather than inclusive
and based on tenets of social justice and social solidarity.

The Criminology of Exclusion

If the period immediately following World War II (modernity) emphasized a criminology of
inclusion, the last third of the 20th century (late modernity) has emphasized the reverse, a
criminology of exclusion (Young, 1999). The inclusive spirit was typified by the idea that
offenders, even those who committed violent crimes, could be rehabilitated and effectively
reintegrated into society. The criminology of exclusion, on the other hand, can be located in
the various strategies that have evolved in the past two decades to manage those viewed as
uncivil or dangerous: “the underclass, the marginalized, the truly disadvantaged, the
criminals” (Rose, 2000, p. 331). While three strikes, preventive detention, mandatory

sentences and increases in the use of prison are among these strategies, it is zero tolerance
that best exemplifies this crime control of exclusion.
It is possible that the current movement towards the greater control of the so-called
dangerous classes was entirely predictable, especially if one considers the history of social
and criminal regulation. Increases in crime have always had the potential to symbolize social
breakdown in ways that lead to an enhancement of formal controls and punitiveness
(Downes, 2001). Melossi (2000) has argued that these enhanced controls against criminals
occur in a cyclical fashion. In social periods characterized by positive economic conditions
and general optimism, a more liberal social attitude prevails. In such an environment
imprisonment rates are low and a rehabilitative ethos is visible. Indeed, some offenders are
viewed sympathetically because they are seen as waging a virtuous war against an unjust
society. A radically different view of the criminal emerges during periods of socioeconomic
crisis. Characterized by conservatism, and by an unyielding campaign to protect society
against offenders deemed a threat to the existing moral and social order, these periods
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emphasize intolerance, higher imprisonment rates and harsher penalties. Society thus
oscillates from sympathy for to vilification of the criminal in a manner that is far from being
random and unforeseeable. If the recent assault on rehabilitation and rise of zero tolerance is
placed in the historical context presented by Melossi, it suggests that intolerance towards
those who are symbolic enemies is by no means intractable. Having said this, however, there
are unique features of contemporary control strategies that may dramatically affect the course
of future developments.
Earlier, I argued that the roots of today’s exclusionary criminal justice policies can be
found in the social, economic, political, and cultural shifts that ushered in the late modern
period. In its wake have emerged new modes of governing social marginality (Beckett &
Western, 2001). Zero tolerance thus signifies a much deeper and more profound
transformation in the nature of social control. It also highlights the degree to which the ills
of poverty, joblessness, and social exclusion have been displaced in the public discourse by
“the new triumphalism” which boasts that crime can be controlled through the criminal
justice system alone (Currie, 1999, p. 2).

New Modes of Governing Social Marginality

The rise of zero tolerance is related to a reconfiguration in the governance of social
marginality that has occurred over the past two decades. According to Beckett and Western
(2001), the nature of this reconfiguration can be summarized as a shift away from welfarism
in both the penal and social spheres:

Contemporary political discourse tends to frame discussions of problems such as homelessness as security
issues rather than social problems, is quite pessimistic about the possibility of integrating the socially
marginal, and places more emphasis upon the dangerous and undeserving nature of the poor than was the case
earlier in the century (pp. 46–47).

With welfarism under assault, its recipients have found themselves the target of a
marginalizing sentiment that has permeated (and poisoned) the political discourse. The need
for heightened security thus no longer applies only to crime and criminals; a logic of social
control, social exclusion, and social marginality is prevalent in both penal and welfare
institutions (Beckett & Western, 2001). In the US, this linkage of penal and welfare policy
realms further marginalizes groups that already experience high degrees of intolerance and
social exclusion due to their status as minorities and/or the poor.3 The spatial, economic and
racial segregation that persists in US society means that the implementation of zero tolerance
policies can be fine-tuned so that only those perceived as a threat to society are affected. It

is in this sense that the prevailing punitive strategy is one of essentialized difference. As
David Garland (1996, p. 461) has said, “It is a criminology of the alien other which represents
criminals as dangerous members of distinct racial and social groups which bear little
resemblance to ‘us’.” The extreme marginalization fostered through this conception
reinforces the punitive strategy and makes it easier for an already anxious public to support
policies like zero tolerance. The result is a loss of a middle ground represented by the “once-
dominant welfarist criminology which depicted the offender as disadvantaged or poorly
socialized and made it the state’s responsibility—in social as well as penal policy—to take
positive steps of a remedial kind” (Garland, 1996, p. 462). Increasingly the governance of
social marginality assumes the existence of vast inequalities, extreme social exclusion, and
the use of policies like zero tolerance to “keep the whole thing contained” (Currie, 1999,
p. 12).
The new method of governing social marginality is perpetuated by an “actuarial logic”
(Feeley & Simon, 1994) that has emerged in the modern period. The shift from
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industrialization to modernization brought with it a wide spectrum of everyday risks—crime,

environmental harms, traffic accidents, new illnesses, terrorism, and so on—that individuals
have sought to control. Shearing (2001, p. 209) has noted: “This concern with risk is giving
rise to a new mode of living. Instead of going ahead, doing things, and then coping with the
problems this might create, when they arise, we now seek to anticipate problems and avoid
them.” The pre-occupation with risk generates pre-emptive action against those who threaten
the moral and social order. The goal of this action is to eliminate risk through the
management and regulation of individuals and groups. While the actuarial logic assumes the
other is everywhere and not restricted to criminals and outsiders (Young, 1999), the
application of risk reduction strategies such as zero tolerance are, as we have seen, most
likely to be applied against those who are least able to resist them. It is not surprising that the
rise of the risk society has coincided with the shift away from welfarism in both the penal and
social spheres. What has emerged is a new mode of governing social marginality that is
perfectly attuned to a late modern sensibility which seeks control over a rapidly changing
society. The expressive and punitive zero tolerance strategy that has become part of the crime
and social control landscape both reassures us and contains the risky. But, as I will show, it
is a reassurance that is superficial and, ultimately, dangerous.

The Dangers of Zero Tolerance

Zero tolerance and other punitive crime and social control strategies are wedded to the idea
that crime can be cleaned up.4 Zero tolerance policing, for example, asserts that the cleaning
up of low level offenses will, in turn, lead to fewer major crimes. This strategy not only
reinforces the age-old bias of focusing on the street at the expense of the suite, but also turns
attention away from the deeply entrenched structural factors that contribute to crime. As
Elliot Currie (1999, p. 10) recently observed:

The flip side of exaggeration of the effect of tough sentencing and macho policing is the underestimation of
the impact of deeper social forces in producing the recent declines in violence . . . there’s an ideological
purpose being served by this underestimation. It helps to bolster the claim that “root causes” don’t matter and
that those of us who believe that we’d have less violence if we began treating people better, rather that just
treating them rougher, are obsolete.

The repressive controls that have become part of the social landscape have shifted attention
away from the role that education, housing, jobs, community, family networks, and positive
social attachments play in fostering social integration (Garland, 1998). Like the “war on
drugs,” what has emerged over the past two decades is a simplistic view of human nature and

a series of expressive control mechanisms that are hollow at their core. The strategy of
getting tough on drug users through incarceration cleans up society and lets the drug offender
know that, if he or she does not shape up, they will be banished from society, more often than
not for a long period of time. Very little attention is paid to the addiction, its underlying
sources, and to the complex reasons why drugs have such a hold on so many Americans.
Similarly, zero tolerance policing is about cleaning up society so that it is uncontaminated
for those of us that “respect basic norms of decency.”5 Little attention is paid to the
underlying causes of behavior. Nor is any real consideration given to the serious
consequences associated with getting into conflict with the law—consequences that are more
devastating to those who are already disadvantaged in society. Such an approach is also
potentially devastating to communities that already suffer from serious social problems.
Meares (1998) has argued that aggressive policing may generate long-term problems even
though there might be relief from crime and menacing behavior in the short-term. If the social
organization6 of a community is a predictor of crime, zero tolerance policing can be viewed
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as a strategy that serves to undermine this organization. “The deterrent effects of such a
strategy are weak at best, whereas its damaging effects—disruption of family ties,
stigmatizing barriers to labor participation, increased levels of alienation and distrust—may
prove criminogenic in themselves” (Greene, 1999, p. 182).


This paper has argued that the rise of punitive criminal justice measures like zero tolerance
is the result of a series of social, political, economic, and cultural developments that have
transformed the nature of crime and social control in the US and other western industrialized
nations during the late modern period. Zero tolerance has become a metaphor for our times.
The realization that crime is part and parcel of late modernity has produced heightened levels
of fear and anxiety, demands for action, and a state response that is decidedly anti-modern,
punitive, and absolutist in nature. But zero tolerance is also a symbol of the past: it represents
a naı̈ve, collective yearning for a time when distinctions in the realm of human behavior were
clear and authority widely respected. These were times when formal and informal social
controls were more effective, when fewer risks were associated with daily life, and when
generalized anxiety over crime and other forms of trouble was much less prevalent.
While zero tolerance in criminal justice represents an attempt to impose order on an
increasingly complex and crime-prone society, it does so in a manner that reinforces existing
inequities, and divorces people struggling to make a go of it from the society in which they
live. This latter feature is perhaps the most significant implication of zero tolerance, and the
clearest way in which it is disconnected from the past. As Garland has observed, “The posture
of ‘understanding’ the offender . . . gives way more and more to that of condemning him or
her. The prospect of reintegrating the offender is more and more viewed as unrealistic and,
over time, comes to seem less morally compelling” (2000, p. 368, emphasis in original). With
zero tolerance policies now spreading beyond the realm of criminal justice, the exclusionary
society extends itself, becoming that part of the social fabric which symbolizes our worries
and insecurities

1. This period covers the last third of the 20th century (Young, 1999).
2. See O’Malley (1999, pp.183–184) for a synopsis of the central concerns of neoliberalism.
3. After analyzing US state welfare expenditures and imprisonment rates between 1975 and 1995, Beckett and
Western (2001, p. 54) conclude that “states with larger black populations are states that spent less on social welfare
and also incarcerated at higher levels.”

4. Miller (2001) recently discussed Robert J. Sampson’s research in Chicago which indicates that physical and
social disorder is only a mild correlate of predatory crime. Serious crime and disorder might both be symptoms of
deeper social and economic disadvantages.
5. Bowling (1999, p. 548) argues that “the notion of fixing broken windows . . . seems actually to be a euphanism
for ‘fixing’ ‘disruptable’ people through the use of aggressive policing. . . . However, aggressive enforcement does
not hold out the possibility for repair of communities ravaged by poverty, drug abuse, widespread availability of
firearms and the entrenchment of violence. Rather, it represents a superficial palliative to a set of fundamental social
problems which are, at best, unaffected by police strategies and, at worst, exacerbated by them.”
6. A socially organized community is characterized by friendship networks, social cohesion, shared values,
participation in community organizations and institutions, and a general concern for the community (Greene,

Anderson, E. (1999). Code of the street: Decency, violence, and the moral life of the inner city. New York: W.W.
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Beckett, K. (1997). Making crime pay: Law and order in contemporary American politics. New York: Oxford
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Blumstein, A. and Wallman, J. (Eds.) (2000). The crime drop in America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
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Karim Ismaili is Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and a Senior Fellow of the
Vincentian Center for Social Justice at St. John’s University. His research focuses on race,
class and gender bias in the criminal justice system, the causes and consequences of mass
incarceration, crime and violence in inner city communities, criminological theory, and
public policy formation and implementation. He is currently examining changes in
immigration policy following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
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