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Punitive Populism: An Entry to the Encyclopedia of Theoretical Criminology

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Abstract

Punitive populism refers to the idea that public support for more severe criminal justice policies (most specifically incarceration) has become a primary driver of policy making, as well as of political election cycles, with the result of increasingly harsh punishments regardless of their ability to reduce crime or redress its known correlates. This entry explores the concept of punitive populism, discusses its history in the United States and other countries, and analyzes some of its effects on criminal justice policies and social responses to crime.
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Punitive Populism
WILLIAM R. WOOD
Punitive populism refers to the idea that public
support for more severe criminal justice policies
(most specically incarceration) has become a
primary driver of policy making, as well as of
political election cycles, with the result of increas-
ingly harsh punishments regardless of their ability
to reduce crime or redress its known correlates.
e term “punitive” refers to the use of criminal
justice sanctions for purposes of punishment,
and since the 1980s punishments such as incar-
ceration have risen most decisively in the United
States,butalsointheUnitedKingdom,Australia,
and New Zealand. e term “populism” refers
generally to the existence of popular sentiments,
beliefs, or ideologies held by particular groups
in contrast to those of elites or policy makers,
particularly in cases where segments of the public
perceive a signicant sense of marginalization or
harmasaresultofpolicyorrulebyelites.
Populist support for punishment is not new,
nor is the idea that politicians may capitalize
on crime to serve their own ends. However, the
notion of punitive populism is more rooted in
historically recent trends in the United States and
other Western countries that have experienced
signicant increases in prison populations, as
well as marked changes in the policy making and
administration of criminal justice. In particular,
these changes include the growth of voter initia-
tives on crime control, the increase in legislative
decision making over criminal sentencing and
corrections, the corresponding decrease in judi-
cial discretion over sentencing, and the reduction
or elimination of parole.
e auspices for these changes began in the
1960s, when the United States and several other
Westerncountriesbeganaprotractedincrease
in recorded crime, as well as social unrest that
created divisive and oen acrimonious social
and cultural divisions. In the United States, the
1960s saw the rise of the Civil Rights movement,
anti-war movements, feminist movements, coun-
tercultural movements, and signicant social
e Encyclopedia of eoretical Criminology, First Edition. Edited by J. Mitchell Miller.
© 2014 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. Published 2014 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
DOI: 10.1002/9781118517390/wbetc140
conict in the form of riots, demonstrations, and
civil unrest. Many Americans were not support-
ive of these movements, however, and by the late
1960s there was a growing conservative opposi-
tion not only to Civil Rights, feminism, and other
social movements, but more broadly to the Great
SocietyprogramsoftheKennedyandJohnson
administrations, to the perceived growth of the
federal government and the social welfare state,
andtotheperceivedlackofmoralityinAmer-
ican culture. In the United Kingdom there was
likewise a similar growth in political and social
divisions. e “postwar consensus” of Keynesian
economics, social welfare, and other programs
designed to protect industry and redistribute
wealth had been central to the United Kingdoms
economic growth since the end of World War
II, but by the early 1970s these programs were
seen by many conservatives as related to growing
economic and social problems.
While rising crime rates, social unrest, and
divisive social movements were not unique to the
United States, the political ramications there
were nevertheless more pronounced. In 1964,
Barry Goldwater used the term “law and order”
in his presidential campaign to signify his con-
servativepositiononthegrowingsocialunrest,
particularly in relation to Civil Rights. Known as
“Mr. Conservative,” Goldwater suered a large
defeat against Lyndon Johnson, but as many
historians have noted, this defeat served as a
catalyst for conservative populists in terms of
grassroots organizing and political strategizing.
Ronald Reagan’s gubernatorial election in Cal-
ifornia in 1966 was a result of such organizing,
and his campaign platform emphasized “law and
order” in regards to student protestors and capital
punishment. In 1968, Richard Nixon again used
law and order as a primary campaign strategy for
the presidency. Unlike Goldwater however, and
inthefaceofgrowingcivilunrestandcultural
divisions, Nixon was successful.
Nixon’s legacy linked most concretely to the
Watergate scandal and his subsequent resigna-
tion. However, his two successful presidential
elections forced a rethinking by political conser-
vatives toward the promotion and campaigning
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2PUNITIVE POPULISM
on “wedge issues” that allowed them to gain
support from socially conservative voters who
had tended to otherwise vote Democrat for eco-
nomic and historical reasons. Richard Viguere,
an inuential conservative and architect of the
development of direct mailing credited with
Ronald Reagans successful presidential election
in 1980, has argued that the emergence of the
“New Right” in American politics was success-
ful in large part because of such issues, which
includednotonlylawandorder,butabortion,
prayer in schools, and other issues designed to
appeal to social conservatives.
Inthecaseoflawandorder,however,thefruit-
fulness of this as a campaigning strategy in the
late 1960s and 1970s quickly pushed it beyond
that of a wedge issue into mainstream American
politics. By the late 1970s, crime rates in the
United States had been steadily increasing for
two decades, in particular violent crime. In cap-
italizing on the problem of crime, conservatives
were able to eectively frame the problem as one
of law and order as opposed to one of poverty,
discrimination, or social marginalization for
several reasons. Primarily, public belief in the
rehabilitative promise of corrections was wan-
ing, and received a signicant blow with Robert
Martinsons (1974) famous report on some 231
correctional rehabilitative programs that found
little evidence of success. Also, given the apparent
failures of rehabilitation and the fact that many
liberals were opposed to racial disparities in
indeterminate sentencing, conservatives recog-
nizedthatDemocratsandprogressiveslackeda
clear political message on the growing problem
of crime. is allowed conservatives to paint a
picture of the liberal status quo as “so on crime,”
a point summarized well by Congressman Gerald
Ford as early as 1965 when he argued, “How long
are we going to abdicate law and order in favor
of a so social theory that the man who heaves a
brick through your window or tosses a rebomb
into your car is simply the misunderstood and
underprivileged product of a broken home?”
(quoted in Edsall & Edsall, 1992, p. 51).
irdly, by the late 1970s victims’ rights move-
ments in the United States were gaining visibility
and political inuence. While these movements
were initially less partisan, conservatives were
able to eectively coalesce their law and order
platform with legislation that provided for more
rights to victims, as well as a message that sup-
porting victims meant more punishment for
oenders. Conservative politicians, in particular
Ronald Reagan, were able to usurp much of
the populism inherent in such movements a
distrust of the criminal justice system, a percep-
tion that the system served to meet the needs
of oenders at the expense of victims, and a
belief that criminal justice professionals oen
re-victimized victims in their pursuit of jus-
tice – into a “tough on crime” political platform
that appealed to many voters.
Finally, in the 1970s conservatives began to link
the problem of crime to other social problems
such as welfare, teen pregnancy, and abortion.
Criminologists such as James Q. Wilson (an
advisortoRonaldReagan)andCharlesMurray
lent credibility to these claims, arguing that
poverty was not as much a driver in criminal
activity as previously thought, that welfare in
some cases actually served to increase crime,
and that increasing crime rates were a result of
a culture of moral permissiveness as well as a
lack of enforcement and suitable punishments
necessary for deterrence. Wilson, Murray, and
othersrepresentedanew“RightRealism”in
criminology, based in large part on theories of
incapacitation and deterrence. At the core of
this approach was the belief that punishment, not
rehabilitation, represented a more eective means
of crime control for most oenders who weighed
the risks and rewards of criminal activity. Along
with Wilson, other scholars such as Andrew Von
Hirsch also argued against the use of indetermi-
nate sentences designed to rehabilitate, in favor of
punishment not as a means of deterrence, but as
a means of social equity and one’s “just deserts.”
VonHirschsworkinparticularwasinuential
in the growth of determinate and mandatory
sentencing laws in many states and at the federal
level.
Taken separately these deterrence theories,
retributive theories, the rise of victims’ rights,
and the problems inherent in the rehabilitative
model of punishment did not point to any single
obvious strategy in social responses to crime. Col-
lectively, however, they allowed policy makers to
draw from these diering and even contradictory
positionsunderarubricof“toughoncrimea
political discourse and campaigning strategy that
was exible enough to encompass both deterrent
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PUNITIVE POPULISM 3
and retributivist logics, but concise enough to
frametheproblemofcrimeasonedirectlyrelated
to a lack of punishment and enforcement. e
eectiveness of this “tough on crime” position
from political candidates has been referred to by
David Garland (2001) as “the politicization of
crime control,” and by Jonathan Simon (2007) as
the emergence of a “governing through crime”
by political elites. Simon’s point is not that crime
became the only issue in the late twentieth cen-
tury, but rather that it became a decisive one in
manypoliticalcampaigns,andonethatwasmost
easily addressed by candidates being tougher
on crime than their opponent. e risk of being
perceived as “so on crime” was clear in the 1988
presidential election, for example, where George
Bush successfully attacked Michael Dukakis,
who as governor of Massachusetts had supported
the use of weekend furlough programs for con-
victed felons. While on a furlough, one felon
namedWillieHortoncommittedseveralcrimes
including rape. Using Horton, the Bush campaign
was able to successfully frame Dukakis as so
on crime and out of touch with the American
public a frame that was seen by many pundits
and scholars as central to Bush’s election.
Bythistime,however,Dukakiswasarguably
a caricature of “so on crime” politics that
found as many Democrats as Republicans taking
ever-increasing hard stances toward crime. Bill
Clintons 1992 presidential election took a page
fromtheRepublicanplaybookinsupportingthe
hiring of thousands of police ocers, continu-
ing support for the war on drugs, and strongly
supporting the death penalty. Indeed, by the
1990s many Democratic political candidates were
challenging Republican ownership of the crime
issue, largely through adopting increasingly
tough-on-crime platforms resembling those of
their Republican opponents.
Between 1980 and 2000, incarceration rates in
the United States grew by 350%. Part of this was
due to the rise in violent crime, which according
to ocial data had been increasing for almost 30
years by the early 1990s. Yet a signicant increase
came not in the form of violent oenders, but
rather in the coalescence of increased or manda-
tory sentences for repeat oenders, the limiting of
parole at the federal and state levels, and massive
increase in incarceration for drug oenses. For
example, new commitments to prison for drug
oenses in the United States surpassed those
for violent oenses in 1988. Also, by the 1990s
states such as California were routinely returning
oenders to prison for minor parole violations.
By the late 2000s, about 1 of every 31 Americans
were incarcerated or on parole or probation, a rate
far higher than any other Western industrialized
nation.
ese trends reect what social scientists refer
to as the “punitive turn” in American society,
although such changes have also occurred to
lesser degrees in the United Kingdom, Australia,
and New Zealand. e reasons for this turn
are complex, but many scholars have pointed
to the increased politicization of crime as part
of the explanation, particularly where such
strategies have met with strong support from
voters. Anthony Bottoms (1995, p. 40), a British
criminologist, rst used the term “populist puni-
tiveness” in reference to the growth of “politicians
tapping into, and using for their own purposes,
what they believe to be the publics generally
punitive stance.” Bottoms argument was not that
populist punitiveness alone explained the changes
in philosophies of punishment and the adminis-
tration of criminal justice, but rather that it was
part of a larger set of changes including the rise
of just deserts or retributive sentencing practices,
as well as an increasingly managerial approach
to corrections. David Garland (2001, p. 13) has
likewise argued that by the beginning of the
twenty-rst century there had emerged, “a dis-
tinctly populist current in penal politics that den-
igrates expert and professional elites and claims
the authority of ‘the people,’ of common sense, of
‘getting back to the basics.’ e dominant voice
of crime policy is no longer the expert or even
the practitioner but that of the long-suering,
ill-served people especially of ‘the victim’ and
the fearful, anxious members of the public.”
e eects of such populism have been not
only an increase in the use of punishments such
as incarceration and intermediate sanctions, but
also a decrease in the provision and promises
of rehabilitation and reintegration. Being tough
on crime has meant not only increasing the
use of punishment, but in many cases likewise
reducing the use of correctional rehabilitative
programming, job-training, education, and so
on. Research in the mid 1990s found that at least
half of US states and the federal government had
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4PUNITIVE POPULISM
reduced funding and delivery of inmate educa-
tional programs (Lillis, 1994), and that during
this decade released inmates were less likely to
receive prerelease, educational, or vocational
programming than in the past (Lynch & Sabol,
2001). Still, not all of these trends can be reduced
totheemergenceofpunitivepopulism.Rather,it
ismorelikelythecasethatsuchpopulismitselfis
a result of a host of factors that both align with, as
well as inuence, changing criminal justice poli-
cies, including an aging population, state scal
crises and nancial strains, growing economic
uncertainty, growing divisions of wealth inequal-
ity, and as discussed above, changing social and
culturaltrends.Indeed,whilesuchpopulismhas
driven the growth of prisons over the last 30 years,
the scal strains caused by bloated correctional
budgets are now being questioned by voters and
an increasing number of policy makers faced with
governing in a time of scal austerity. In 2011,
the overall prison population in the United States
decreasedforthersttimein40years,asign
perhaps that populist concerns may be shiing
away from crime control at any cost.
SEE ALSO: Capital Punishment; Deterrence; wbetc093
wbetc208
Moral Entrepreneur; Zero Tolerance. wbetc192
wbetc147
References
Bottoms, A. (1995). e philosophy and politics of pun-
ishment and sentencing. In C. Clarkson & R. Morgan
(Eds.), e politics of sentencing reform (pp. 17– 49).
Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Edsall, T. B., & Edsall, M. D. (1992). Chain reaction: e
impact of race, rights, and taxes on American politics.
New York: Norton.
Garland, D. (2001). e culture of control: Crime and
order in contemporary society.Oxford:OxfordUni-
versity Press.
Lillis, J. (1994). Prison education programs reduced.
Corrections Compendium,19(3), 1 –11.
Lynch, J.P., & Sabol, W. J. (2001). Prisoner reentry in per-
spective.Washington,DC:eUrbanInstitute.
Martinson, R. (1974). What works? Questions and
answers about prison reform. e Public Interest,
Spring, 22– 54.
Simon, J. (2007). Governing through crime.Oxford:
Oxford University Press.
Miller wbetc140.tex V1 - 10/26/2013 12:58 A.M. Page 5
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ABSTRACT
Punitive populism refers to the idea that public support for more severe criminal justice policies (most
specically incarceration) has become a primary driver of policy making, as well as of political election
cycles, with the result of increasingly harsh punishments regardless of their ability to reduce crime or
redress its known correlates. is entry explores the concept of punitive populism, discusses its history
intheUnitedStatesandothercountries,andanalyzessomeofitseectsoncriminaljusticepoliciesand
social responses to crime.
KEYWORDS
Corrections; Criminology and Public Policy; Garland, David; Neo-Conservative Criminology; Prisons;
Rehabilitation and Treatment; Wilson, James Q.
... À la fin des années 1970, une vague conservatrice modifie le contexte dans lequel se développe la criminologie. L'augmentation de la crimi- nalité violente et les préoccupations qu'elle suscite dans la population donnent une légitimité au durcissement du discours sur le crime (Cihonski, Ruiz et Hummer, 2014 ;Wood, 2014). On observe alors un rejet des politiques sociales libérales et l'émergence de théories néo- conservatrices qui se désintéressent des causes sociales profondes du comportement criminel (telles que les inégalités sociales) et privilégient plutôt une représentation du crime comme un choix individuel (Lilly et al., 2015, p. 234 ;Shantz, 2014). ...
... Ce fut donc l'occasion de ramener à l'avant-scène des interprétations biopsychologiques, voulant que les criminels soient différents (en termes d'intelligence, de personnalité, de génétique ou de cognition), ou encore des théories liées à l'école clas- sique envisageant le criminel comme un individu rationnel qui opte pour le crime si le bénéfice qu'il en tire excède le coût à payer (Lilly et al., 2015, p. 244 ;Shantz, 2014). Enfin, ce courant conservateur est aussi associé à des politiques répressives visant à punir ou à contrôler les délinquants plutôt qu'à les aider ou à les soigner (Lilly et al., 2015, p. 233 ;Wood, 2014). ...
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Au cours de son histoire, la criminologie a été influencée par de nombreuses disciplines. Elle est d’abord marquée, au début du xxe siècle, par la sociologie positiviste aux États-Unis et par la psychiatrie en Grande-Bretagne, avant d’être fortement influencée par des courants critiques issus de la sociologie. Puis, à partir des années 1990, elle s’ouvre à nouveau aux perspectives de différentes disciplines. Basée sur les références citées par un ensemble de revues de criminologie principalement de langue anglaise, cette étude analyse la place qu’y ont occupée les différentes disciplines entre 1991 et 2014. Il en ressort que les articles de criminologie sont de plus en plus interdisciplinaires, avec 65 % des articles de 2014 citant plus de trois disciplines. Au sein de ces articles, la proportion des références occupée par la psychologie est en progression, au détriment des références faites aux sciences sociales et au droit. Lorsqu’on examine les références citées par les revues et l’affiliation de leurs auteurs, on observe que 42 % des revues étudiées ont un profil interdisciplinaire alors que 22 % s’inscrivent dans une perspective sociocriminologique, 22 % sont centrées sur la psychologie et 4 % sur le droit. L’analyse du réseau de citations de ces revues montre enfin que les revues centrales de la discipline ont des influences disciplinaires variées : des revues ancrées dans la criminologie et les sciences sociales y côtoient des revues interdisciplinaires ainsi que des publications centrées sur la psychologie.
... Estos casos, que suelen tener una alta resonancia mediática dada su gravedad, son los que provocan la reacción de los legisladores y del gobierno, quienes aprovechan la indignación pública para sacar réditos políticos de iniciativas que pretenden, al menos aparentemente, contrarrestar el fenómeno 5 . Dicho actuar es lo que en términos académicos se conoce como "populismo punitivo", esto es, fundamentar la política criminal en el apoyo que popularmente se da a castigos cada vez más severos con independencia de la capacidad que esas medidas tengan para contrarrestar o reducir el delito que las motivó (WIllIam, 2014;BottomS, 1995). Con medidas de este corte "se cree -o al menos se aparenta-poder resolver mediante inflación punitiva formas de violencia con raíces estructurales" 6 (loNdoño & Sotomayor, 1989). ...
... 14 Ya en 2001 este autor dio cuenta de los distintos motivos o factores que tenían una relación con la dinámica expansionista del Derecho penal, entre los que se encontraban de la severidad en la respuesta penal por parte del legislador, y que constituye más que una crítica jurídica un reproche al modo de proceder de este: el populismo punitivo. Este se refiere a la idea de que la deriva punitiva de la política criminal se debe bien a las demandas de penas más severas por parte de la ciudadanía a los políticos -punitiveness driven from 'below'-, o bien como la manipulación de los ciudadanos por los políticos mediante la creación de percepciones de inseguridad para poder ofrecer una respuesta dura contra el crimen e incrementar de este modo los réditos electoralespunitiveness as a 'top-down' process- (Matthews, 2005;Wood, 2014) 15 . Llegar a esta conclusión no es especialmente complicado porque, en realidad, cada vez que el legislador decide modificar el Código penal es fácil encontrar en las EM justificaciones que apelan a la "demanda social", "preocupación social", o términos similares, y de identificar la concurrencia temporal entre los casos especialmente mediáticos y posteriores modificaciones del texto jurídico (Pérez Cepededa, 2013) 16 . ...
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______________________________________________________________________________________RESUMEN: Las críticas por parte de la doctrina penal a la prisión permanente revisable han sido numerosas. Entre ellas la relativa al populismo punitivo y que podría ser reforzada por determinados estudios de opinión que muestran un amplio apoyo social a esta pena. Sin embargo, un análisis de las preguntas empleadas para obtener esta información nos permite sospechar que los resultados pueden estar sesgados en la medida en la que no se capta la complejidad de la problemática. Por ello, el presente experimento (N=1118) recoge resultados convergentes con los que, desde la Psicología Social, se han obtenido acerca del sesgo que se produce en la elaboración de juicios complejos, dependiendo de la perspectiva en la que se presente la información. Aplicado a un caso de asesinato múltiple, los principales resultados apuntan a que los participantes que reciben la información desde la perspectiva del actor muestran preferencias hacia castigos menores, son menos retributivos y apoyan menos la prisión permanente revisable que aquellos participantes que han analizado la información desde la perspectiva de un observador. Finalmente, reflexionamos acerca de las implicaciones político-criminales de estos resultados. PALABRAS CLAVE: prisión permanente revisable, populismo punitivo, opinión pública, sesgo actor-observador ABSTRACT: Criticisms among academics to the prison for life punishment have been numerous. Among them is the punitive populism that could be reinforced by certain opinion studies that show a broad social support for this kind of punishment. However, an analysis of the items used to obtain this information allows us to suspect that the results may be biased to the extent that the complexity of the problem is not captured. The present experiment (N=1118) collects convergent results with those from Social Psychology that have been obtained about the bias that occurs in the elaboration of complex judgments depending on the perspective in which the information is presented. Applied to a case of multiple murder, the main results suggest that the participants who receive the information from the actor's perspective show preferences towards minor punishments, are less retributivists and support less prison for life punishment than those participants who have analyzed the information from the perspective of an observer. Finally, we conclude with some considerations about criminal policy implications.
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The objective of this article is to answer the question of when an increase in criminal legislation is necessary. To this end, a review was conducted on the positions that deal directly or peripherally with increases in criminal legislation, with a focus on how these positions relate to increases, such as the more general positions related to “law and social change”, as well as the more specific positions related to penal inflation and “penal populism”. Special reference will be made to the expansion thesis, which, in general, has been well received in Ibero-America. In the second section of this study, the answer to the question is addressed, considering elements from the “law and social change” approach and Sutherland’s reflections on white-collar criminality.
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Traces the rise of the American Republican party to its current, almost unassailable position in presidential elections. The authors argue that the main voting issues in the USA since the mid-1960s have been underpinned by racial anxiety and resentment of welfare liberalities.
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The past 30 years have seen vast changes in our attitudes toward crime. More and more of us live in gated communities; prison populations have skyrocketed; and issues such as racial profiling, community policing, and "zero-tolerance" policies dominate the headlines. How is it that our response to crime and our sense of criminal justice has come to be so dramatically reconfigured? David Garland charts the changes in crime and criminal justice in America and Britain over the past twenty-five years, showing how they have been shaped by two underlying social forces: the distinctive social organization of late modernity and the neoconservative politics that came to dominate the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1980s. Garland explains how the new policies of crime and punishment, welfare and security—and the changing class, race, and gender relations that underpin them—are linked to the fundamental problems of governing contemporary societies, as states, corporations, and private citizens grapple with a volatile economy and a culture that combines expanded personal freedom with relaxed social controls. It is the risky, unfixed character of modern life that underlies our accelerating concern with control and crime control in particular. It is not just crime that has changed; society has changed as well, and this transformation has reshaped criminological thought, public policy, and the cultural meaning of crime and criminals. David Garland's The Culture of Control offers a brilliant guide to this process and its still-reverberating consequences.
What works? Questions and answers about prison reform
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Martinson, R. (1974). What works? Questions and answers about prison reform. The Public Interest, Spring, 22-54.
Prison education programs reduced
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