Punishment and Politics: Evidence and Emulation in the Making of English Crime Control Policy

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Willan, 2004 - Social Science - 164 pages
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Labour has embarked on a root and branch remaking of the criminal justice system of England and Wales. New proposals and initiatives tumble out weekly and major legislation is enacted every year. Despite Government claims to engage in evidence-based policy-making, the evidence on which many changes are based is uncertain and controversial. On many of the biggest issues the evidence points clearly in one direction and the Government has marched decisively in the other. No other western governments have chosen to emulate the disastrous American crime control policies and politics of the past quarter century in this way. American-style mandatory minimum sentence laws, correctional boot camps, and zero-tolerance policing have all been adopted, despite their well documented failures in the US. England has the highest imprisonment rate, the most crowded prisons, the severest sentencing practices, the most hyperbolic anti-crime rhetoric, and the worst racial disparities in imprisonment in Europe. Much of the burden of the new English toughness is borne by members of racial and ethnic minorities. Years of overheated rhetoric about a ‘sentencing system that does not make sense’ and ‘balancing the system in favour of the victim’ are undermining public confidence in the legal system. Overemphasis on crime and crime prevention is making people fearful. Wrongful convictions are becoming more common as a result of repeated weakening of procedural protections accorded defendants. Why? Why has the English Government emulated such conspicuously unsuccessful American policies, at such great costs in public resources and human suffering? The answer, it is widely agreed, is that the Government has preferred the political symbolism of toughness over the practical substance of effectiveness and human rights. In this hard-hitting book, Michael Tonry disentangles the influences of evidence, ideology and self-interest in New Labour’s crime policies. He shows why many recent changes are doomed to fail and how they can be recast to be made more effective, less costly, and less damaging to offenders, their loved ones, and their communities.

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About the author (2004)

Michael Tonry is Professor of Criminal Law at the University of Minnesota.

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