U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Theorizing Fines

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 11 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2009 Pages: 67-83
Pat O'Malley
Date Published
January 2009
17 pages
This article reviews the recent contributions to literature regarding fines.
This article adds to the literature which examines fines as a means of discipline and punishment through historical context. Given their central place as a sanction in criminal justice, the virtual absence of a theoretical literature on fines is a serious deficit. This article reviews the principal contribution to date, and argues that they suffer from a misleading conviction that sanctions are driven by production relations. This seriously underestimates the impact of penal discourses and practice, which can better account for variations in the rise, uneven distribution, and recent decline in fines’ dominance as a punishment. Equally important is the failure to consider the nexus between the rise of the modern regulatory fine and the rise of consumer societies. Historically, fines or money sanctions were the ideally liberal forms of punishment for they delivered no physical coercion. Rather than giving pain, they took away pleasure. They were, in the event of injustice, completely reversible. Fines could be tailored to deliver punishment equally to rich and poor by calculating them as a proportion of the offender’s wealth rather than as a flat amount, thereby prefiguring the modern day fine. Modern day fines distinguish between the analysis of criminal offenses and administration offenses, cases in which the state need have no concern for the delinquent. Many of the high risk offenders are members of the underclass who in any case can not afford to pay fines; in this case, prison is their fate once again. Notes and references


No download available