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Criminal Justice Policy in France: Illusions of Severity (From Crime, Punishment, and Politics in Comparative Perspective, P 471-550, 2007, Michael Tonry, ed. - See NCJ-241880)

NCJ Number
Sebastian Roche
Date Published
80 pages
Penal policies and politics in France are examined in this essay.
Penal policies and politics in France since the 1960s have followed their own distinct patterns. Although crime rates rose steeply, legislators enacted harsher maximum-penalty laws, and prison sentence lengths increased, it would be an exaggeration to say that policies and practices became harsher across the board. Use of the death penalty declined, and it was abolished in 1981. Imprisonment of young offenders did not rise. The number of prison admissions halved. A wide range of alternative dispositions and processes emerged, and the use of pardons and amnesties to control the prison population expanded amid little public, political, or media controversy. On some subjects, "veto players" successfully resisted the adoption of harsh policies they disapproved. Three lessons stand out. First, use of imprisonment rates alone to characterize penal policy trends or severity can be fundamentally misleading. Second, French policymakers remain fundamentally skeptical about the value or desirability of imprisonment. Third, neither political nor popular cultures in France are caught up in Anglo-Saxon punitiveness, thereby enabling diversionary programs, informal procedures, and widespread pardons and amnesties to survive and thrive. (Published Abstract)