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

Unthought Thoughts: The Influence of Changing Sensibilities on Penal Policies

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 3 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2001 Pages: 167-181
Michael Tonry
David Garland
Date Published
January 2001
15 pages
Trends in punishment policies and forms vary in relation to changes in public sensibilities toward crime; propositions and policies that appear unthinkable in some cases become commonplace in others.
The author proposes ways in which understanding long-term trends in crime, punishment, and public sensibilities can aid in efforts to understand contemporary issues and to avoid mistakes in the future. The focus is on the influence of changing secular conditions on public sensibilities and on the influence of changing sensibilities on beliefs. Consideration is also paid to preventive detention, prosecutorial sentence appeals, and just deserts in relation to criminal justice policy debates of the 1990's. The model penal code development process of the 1950's is described, with emphasis on sentencing, probation, good time, and parole release. Finally, the recidivism of first-time prisoners since the 1960's is discussed. The author concludes crime policies in the United States have been driven more by ideology, emotion, and political opportunism than by rational analysis of options and reasoned discussion. 47 references