Social Control and the Patriot Act

Melissa Schaefer, The American University
Ashley M. Nellis, Justice Research and Statistics Assn

Throughout history, American legislators have responded to threats against American security by strengthening mechanisms of formal social control. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, legislation was enacted callling for the internment of Japense-Americans. The events of September 11, 2001 have elicited comparable responses culminating in the passage of the Patriot act.

This paper explores the process by which threats to national security result in the passage of laws that are both instrumental and symbolic. Competing theoretical models of social control are investigated in an attempt to explain these responses. Conclusions are drawn to facilitate better understanding of the motivations and consequences of these legislative actions.

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Updated 05/20/2006