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

NCJ Number
Michael Tonry
Date Published
175 pages
This book offers a critical analysis of England’s criminal justice and crime control policies since 1997, when the New Labour Party took office.
England has become the first major Western country to emulate American criminal justice policies, breaking ranks with other Western countries in the early 1990’s to adopt harsh criminal justice sanctions. The trend continues; in 2004, England adopted Europe’s only set of mandatory minimum sentencing laws and the “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” law. The trend toward harsher criminal sanctions has caused the size of the already over-crowded prison system to rise rapidly. The author’s main premise is that England’s policymakers adopted harsh, American-style crime control measures because they were motivated by ideology or political self-interest. Moreover, since these policies were adopted for symbolic reasons, little consideration has been given to whether they will work. The analysis presented here dissects the influences of evidence, ignorance, ideology, and self-interest in the New Labour Party’s crime control policies. In the first half of the book, the author analyzes the central proposals discussed in the 2002 White Paper entitled, “Justice for All.” The 2002 Criminal Justice Bill and the 2003 Criminal Justice Act followed the White Paper in terms of rhetoric and political symbolism; the author describes crime-control policy in England and Wales as “tumultuous and schizophrenic.” The foundation document on which the 2003 Criminal Justice Act builds, the Halliday report, is also carefully analyzed in the first half as the author compares recent New Labour crime control policy to Bill Clinton’s New Democratic Coalition policies. The second half of the book turns to an examination of policy proposals and developments on three key criminal justice issues: sentencing, violence, and racial disparities. In terms of sentencing, the author posits that sentencing guidelines in England are needed to help correct the unjust disparities in sentencing that occur in English courts, both in terms of race and criminal offense. Some of the major actions necessary to develop meaningful and comprehensive sentencing guidelines in line with Halliday’s proposal are considered. Turning to the issue of violence, while the White Paper asserted that that a new law would be required to create indeterminate sentences for some violent offenders and to allow for extended supervision after release, the need for such a sentencing law was under-explained and underdeveloped. Footnotes, tables, references, index