The New Punitiveness: Trends, Theories, Perspectives
Edited by John Pratt, David Brown,
Mark Brown, Simon Hallsworth
and Wayne Morrison
Portland, OR: Willan Publishing, 2005
The first part of the book is entitled “Punitive trends” and begins with a powerful réquisitoire condemning the fundamental expression of cultural and political choices in the United States of America whereby the remnants of the dark ghetto are grafted onto the penitentiary and penal system to produce a coherent and complement of an obvious policy of “criminalization of poverty”.1 This thesis is advanced quite forcefully throughout the text, but no where as eloquently as in the course of the opening contribution, “The great penal leap backward: Incarceration in America from Nixon to Clinton”. This powerful text was drawn by Professor Loïc Wacquant, the author of the recently published Punir les pauvres. Le nouveau gouvernement de l’insécurité sociale, [Paris: Éditions Dupuytren, 2004], among other path-breaking work, and provides quite valuable guidance on the reasons why America has not continued to “comply” with the homeostastic theory touching the level of incarceration in modern societies, notably the demise of rehabilitation, the mutation of the political and media uses of criminality and the fundamental political desire to reinforce penal repression by means of laws having as their touchstone punitiveness. The compelling conclusion advanced and fully defended is that the penal system has partly supplanted and partly supplemented the ghetto as a mechanism of racial control. The analysis not only makes plain the deep structural and functional symbiosis that has emerged between the ghetto and the prison, it has also demonstrated ably that the war on drugs is a deliberate state sponsored action, involving massive resources, with a view to maximizing electoral support by attacking black and other minority groups.
This general thesis is then further developed in Chapter 3, “Crime control in Western countries, 1970 to 2000”, by Lyn Hinds. By exploring the twin measures of the number of people incarcerated per 100,000 population and the number of police officers for the same population, the author exposes the higher rate of custody in America as contrasted with Australia and Europe and, in addition, and no doubt more importantly, we are provided with significant insights respecting the crime control variations across states for the past decades. In this vein, I wish to add that the Student Handbook of Criminal Justice and Criminology,2 edited by John Muncie and David Wilson, contains these remarks, penned by Barry Goldson: “Although ‘official’ statistics do not appear to indicate that youth crime is significantly increasing in scope and / or severity, recent policy and practice responses to ‘young offenders’ have taken a markedly punitive turn.” (See page 221 of “Youth Crime and Youth Justice”, on pages 221-234).
The next contribution whose value I wish to underscore in particular is found on pages 121-138 and was authored by Estella Baker and Julian V. Roberts and is titled “Globalization and the new punitiveness”. In essence, the authors sought (and succeed) in demonstrating to what extent globalization has contributed to the upsurge in sanctions with particular emphasis on the timing of this phenomenon, the cross-border homogeneity which is evident upon close study, and the prevalence of the preoccupation with risk. In effect, the globalization forces are identified as creating or facilitating the creation of a policy environment in which punitive policies may thrive.
At this point, it will be useful to digress somewhat in order to note the contributions of Professors Dawn Moore and Kelly Hannah-Moffat in “The liberal veil: revisiting Canadian penalty”, on pages 85-100. As they observe in the course of their introduction on page 85: “The ‘Canadian model’ of punishment operates under a liberal veil and is increasingly popular and far removed from the kind of punishment described throughout the punitive turn thesis.” Although their objective was not to demonstrate why the incidence of Canadian “punitiveness” in sentencing was markedly restrained in comparison to other jurisdictions, they do offer certain clues to guide future research efforts in this vein.
Notwithstanding this interesting exploration of Canada’s seemingly isolated position, in addition to two other chapters to the same effect found in Part 3 “Non-punitive societies”, the punitive turn which is demonstrated in this study3 is so evident that it need not be reviewed further, permitting me to draw attention in particular to Part 4, “Explanations”, and especially to the contribution of Professor Wayne Morrison, perhaps the most insightful and promising of the contributions with respecting to the long-term understanding of punishment, “Rethinking narratives of penal change in global context”, on pages 290-307. In summary, he seeks to argue the following, as recorded on page 290: “[…] our narratives of penal change must be reassessed and complemented by analyses that adopt a self-conscious global context […]”
In other words, it will be necessary in the future to avoid unduly constraining analysis by reason of an implicit identification of society or community with notions of self-sustaining systems. As made plain on page 290: “in modernity no ‘society’ or ‘nation-state’ should be treated as if they were a self-sustaining system [for] all are part of a global entity.” The discussion that follows is quite simply a tour de force review of the various strands that make up this bedeviling question and is highly recommended for making plain that the “biggest non-punitive area we inhabit is the global international system” as evidenced by the paucity of prosecutions for such epoch-marking crimes such as genocide.4 Indeed, one cannot easily recall a more lucid argument than the one by which the author states that some 165 million victims of murder did not have their crimes prosecuted, much less counted in any official statistical register (See page 294).
In conclusion, although it is no easy task to summarize a quite valuable text of 319 pages involving 17 contributions on so important a subject, I will attempt to do so by stating that this is an indictment of current sentencing practices based on current political beliefs and that opponents of increased punitiveness could hardly find a better analysis of the subject.
Ontario Court of Justice
1 The chapter contains a wealth of statistical information that a layperson may understand with relative ease and which serves to make plain the absolutely mind boggling number of detainees in various institutions who are guilty of comparatively less serious offences. For example, we learn that “Of every 100 people sentenced to prison in Texas in the early 1990’s, 77 were convicted of four lesser categories of infractions, as explained on p. 15. A recently published book that provides multiple insights in respect to the Texas penal system and the overrepresentation of blacks and other minorities is Long Dark Road Bill King and Murder in Jasper, Texas, by Dr. R.C. Ainslie, [University of Texas Press: Austin, 2004]. Refer to pp. 76-99 in particular and to the author’s book review: Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice Vol. 48(1) (January 2006), page 122. Further guidance on this issue in Texas is found in Intermediate Sanctions in Corrections, by Dr. Gail. A Caputo, [University of North Texas Press: Denton, Texas, 2004]..
2 [Cavendish Publishing: London, 2004]. I wish to commend as well a recent text, Incivilities Regulating Offensive Behaviour, edited by Andrew von Hirsch and A.P. Simester, [Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2006]. This superb study of the increasing efforts of governments to extend the reach of the criminal law serves to buttress the contention found in The New Punitiveness to the effect that increased severity, not leniency, is the emerging mot d’ordre which is being given to police agencies.
3 Of course, I do not wish to be understood that this is a path-breaking study. Many prior writings have identified this emerging phenomenon, but certainly not as comprehensively. For example, reference may be had with profit to page 11 of “Doubts on the Upsurge of the Victim’s Role in Criminal Law” by Ybo Buruma in Crime. Victims and Justice Essays on Principles and Practice, edited by Hendrik Kaptein and Marijke Malsch, [Ashgate Publishing Limited: Burlington Vt., 2004, on pages 1-15. The authors make plain that since the 1980s there has been a drastic increase in punitiveness in The Netherlands: more prosecutions, higher penalties and that this increase may not be explained directly by increasing crime rates. See my review in Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice Vol. 47(4) (October 2005), on page 725.
4 Refer again to page 290, and to the acerbic comments on pages 293-294 respecting Rwanda, where allegations of genocide are being prosecuted vigorously. Consider as well Professor Morrison’s chapter “What is crime? Contrasting definitions and perspectives”, on pages 3-19 of the excellent new textbook Criminology, edited by Chris Hale, Keith Hayward, Azrini Wahidin and Emma Wincup [Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2005].