Eliminating the enemy: The import of denying prisoners access to higher education in Clinton's America

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This article investigates why Congress passed legislation in 1994 that denied Pell Grants - the primary source of funding for postsecondary correctional education (PSCE) - to prisoners, despite evidence that PSCE helped reduce recidivism and bolster carceral order. Analysis of the congressional debates and relevant media texts shows that lawmakers, in concert with the popular media, produced a legislative penal drama in which they spoke to key audiences' - particularly white, working and middle class voters' - mistrust of penal practitioners and criminal justice experts, prejudices toward (black and brown) street criminals, fears about crime and anxiety over the economy, the transformed labor market and access to higher education. The article contends that the timing and texture of the Pell Grant affair were symbiotically related to a confluence of developments in the political and related fields during the 1980s and early 1990s. It extends Emile Durkheim's communicative theory of penality to encompass notions of class power and political interest. By producing such legislative penal dramas, lawmakers simultaneously tap into and legitimize collective sentiments of particular audiences, highlight symbolic boundaries between in- and out-groups and shore up political electoral support for punitive polices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)357-378
Number of pages22
JournalPunishment and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2004


  • Pell grants
  • Politics
  • Postsecondary education
  • Prisoners
  • Punishment


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