Criminal Justice on the Public Agenda: Public Philosophies and Punctuated Equilibrium

Stephen Owen, Radford University
Michael L. Jordan, Radford University

This paper explores the social construction of crime control policy; it is intended to further a theoretical and practical understanding of agenda setting in criminal justice policy. The paper tests and affirms Theodore Lowi's assertion that agenda setting reflects dominant public philosophies. A qualitative examination of the evolution of criminal codes demonstrates the interrelationship between crime control policy and the economic, political, and social milieu in which it is generated. This is further affirmed by an examination of changes in police practice, in the transition from patrol-based to community-based policing. Quantitative indicators signal a classic example of punctuation in policy equilibrium. This punctuation is again explained by economic, political, and social factors. The paper concludes by speculating about which crime-related public policy issues will be salient in the future, drawing upon the lessons learned from the analysis.

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Updated 05/20/2006