This article advances our understanding of the well-documented trade-off between welfare and prisons by analyzing US congressional hearings on welfare and criminal justice policies in two periods: the “Great Society” of 1961–67 and the “neoliberal” era of 1981–96. Comparing policymakers’ conceptions about the causes of poverty and crime, about poor and criminal populations, and about the proper role of government, the findings show that conceptions across policy domains are similar in each period and have changed in similar ways over time. These changes correspond to markedly different policy responses to poverty and crime in the two periods, favoring welfare over prisons in the earlier period and prisons over welfare in the later period. The article discusses the implications for an understanding of the punitive turn in public policies, for theories of social control, and for research on the role of ideas in policymaking.
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- policy trade-offs
- target populations