Rise of the American crimefare state

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Author: Peter Andreas
Date: Spring 1998
From: Queen's Quarterly(Vol. 105, Issue 1)
Publisher: Queen's Quarterly
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,494 words

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PETER ANDREAS is an SSRC/MacArthur Foundation Fellow on International Peace and Security and a guest scholar at the Center for US-Mexican Studies, University of California at San Diego. He is co-author of Drug War Politics: The Price of Denial.

When, in his 1996 State of the Union address, President Clinton declared the "end of the era of big government," he certainly was not referring to law enforcement. Indeed, in this same speech, the president announced the appointment of a military general to lead a reinvigorated antidrug campaign and emphasized that his administration was the first to get serious about cracking down on illegal immigration. Law enforcement is the fastest - and one of the only - areas of federal government expansion. Perhaps this is what "reinventing government" is really all about: the decline of the New Deal welfare state and of the Cold War warfare state and the rise of what might be called the "crimefare state."

PART of what makes the rapid growth of the crimefare state so striking is that it is occurring during a period of fiscal austerity, deregulation, and rising antigovernment sentiment. Few issues are more politically popular than crime fighting and government bashing. For example, it is now standard practice for politicians to campaign against big government while at the same time demanding more and tougher law enforcement measures. The remarkable feature of the crimefare state, therefore, is not only its rapid rise but also its ability to remain largely insulated from the antigovernment political backlash.

The crimefare state is not only surviving but thriving in the face of government downsizing: budgets are swelling; agency tasks are expanding; legislators are passing new and more punitive laws; police powers are becoming more concentrated at the federal level and more internationally oriented; law enforcement and national security institutions are combining forces, and more sophisticated and powerful surveillance technologies are emerging. While this is not to suggest that "Big Brother" has arrived, the crimefare state is certainly big and getting bigger.

One obvious indicator of the growth of the crimefare state is funding: spending on federal law enforcement nearly doubled between 1991 and 1996, and it continues to grow at a rapid pace. The Justice Department's budget, for example, increased from $3.9 billion in fiscal year 1986 to $13.7 billion in 1995 - making it the fastest growing cabinet department. Even after adjusting for inflation, the department's budget has nearly tripled since 1981. In the same period, its workforce grew from approximately 55,000 to 94,000.

The Antidrug Offensive and the Growth of Federal Police Power

THE single most important activity of the crimefare state is drug control. The federal drug enforcement budget has grown from roughly $53 million in 1970 to more that $8.2 billion in 1995. Since 1970, the United States has invested about $68 billion in drug enforcement - $65 billion of this since 1981. For the Justice Department alone, spending on drug control increased 11 times between 1981 and 1994, from $360 million to more...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A30398199