The 'Get Tough' Policy of the Late 1970s and 1980s
Several developments in the 1970s contributed to a turn in policy surrounding crime. Among other factors, an increased criminalization of drugs and the construction of a "dangerous", racialized "underclass" led to an increase in imprisonment rates and a shift in focus from the root causes of crime to the guilt of the individual offender.
"Wicked people exist," the political scientist James Q. Wilson wrote in 1975, and continued:"Nothing avails except to set them apart from innocent people."
Articles in the Life Magazine in the early 1970s seem to reflect an increased public interest in crimes and a growing concern about potentially being the victim of crime.
Especially in the 1970s, in response to therapeutic discourses, discourses of democracy in nearly all socio-political spheres, and the civil rights movement, prisoners started to establish forms of self-government in prisons and organized themselves in inmate unions. However, the "Get Tough" policy's ascension to power in the late 1970s brought this progress to almost a standstill with the Supreme Court ruling in Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union (1977). The court found that inmates did not have a First Amendment protected right to organize into and join prison labor unions.