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.

Prisoners' Labor Union

A September 1972 article from the Ann Arbor Sun discusses the struggle to get legal recognition from the Department of Corrections and the State of Michigan for the Michigan Prisoners' Labor Union.