If there was one moment that summed up the very peak of the country's get-tough-on-crime movement, criminologists say it was the 1988 Willie Horton campaign ad.
"Bush and Dukakis on crime," says a deep-throated male voice. "Bush supports the death penalty for first-degree murderers. Dukakis not only opposes the death penalty, he allowed first-degree murderers to have weekend passes from prison. One was Willie Horton."
The ad goes on to describe how Horton attacked a couple while on a weekend pass, stabbing the man and raping the woman, before concluding: "Weekend prison passes — Dukakis on crime."
Michael Dukakis' presidential campaign never recovered. Nor did those of other candidates dubbed soft on criminals. The country was consumed by a national crime wave, fueled by the crack epidemic and gang warfare. Politicians — and voters — pushed for harsher penalties and longer sentences.
Now, 20 years later, 1 in 31 adults in this country is either behind bars or on probation or parole. It's the highest incarceration rate in the nation's history. With the economy in trouble, many states are taking a fresh look at who's in prison, and why. And some states, such as Kentucky, are finding that they can no longer afford to house so many inmates.