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Politics of Crime and Punishment

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2000
47 pages
The underlying thesis of this paper is that crime-control policy is politically constructed.
In developing the thesis and its implications, the authors depart from much of the conventional wisdom in three basic ways. First, in showing the political derivations of crime-control policy, the theory reveals how, why, and to what extent criminological knowledge is marginalized in the policymaking process. Second, the authors take issue with what is largely taken for granted by criminologists, criminal process professionals, and the general public, i.e., the pervasive attractions of a punitive discourse and punitive approaches to crime control. Third, the exploration of the politics that drive crime-control policy reveals more complexity, contingency, and variation within the political process than most observers attribute to the politics of crime and punishment. Many claim that the widespread decrease in crime is directly and causally linked to zero-tolerance policing, to extraordinarily high rates of incarceration, to the increasing length of sentences, to harsh imprisonment conditions, and to the return of capital punishment. Even if these claims are partly true, the authors' counterclaim is that the putative benefits must be weighed against the oppressive costs of overwhelmingly punitive policies. Punitive policies are destructive in a number of ways, but primarily in their exacerbation of racial cleavage and the shattering of communities in order to save them. The authors argue that regardless of whether or not punishment "works", which is a contested proposition, it diverts attention, energy, and resources from strategic responses that identify and respond to the complexity of the crime problems as determined by social inquiry in general and criminological knowledge in particular. 5 exhibits, 22 notes, and 92 references

Date Published: January 1, 2000