Penal Reform in Overcrowded Times

Penal Reform in Overcrowded Times

Penal Reform in Overcrowded Times

Penal Reform in Overcrowded Times

Synopsis

This volume brings together a collection of articles on penal reform in the United States, Europe, Japan, and other English-speaking countries. Unique and wide-ranging, the volume provides material on penal policy development and research and presents an international, comparative focus. Written by leading national and international authorities, it offers some of the broadest efforts to characterize recent penal trends and to analyze their causes and consequences.

Excerpt

Most Western countries are in the throes of something loosely and misleadingly known as penal reform. The usage is loose because it encompasses everything from diversionary alternatives to prosecution to expedited appeal of death penalty decisions, and it is misleading because one person's salutary innovation is another's disastrous mistake. Even wanted changes often produce unforeseen and unwanted effects. Norval Morris often quotes a possibly apocryphal Victorian administrator's observation, “Reform, reform, don't speak to me of reform. Things are bad enough as it is, ” and it is as apt now as it was then.

“Penal reform” is used somewhat more narrowly in this volume to refer to changes in laws, policies, and practices that govern judges' sentencing decisions and the operation of sanctioning programs from probation to prison. Sometimes these changes are aimed at making punishments harsher or more humane, but more often they have sought to reduce costs, increase efficiency, or make decisions in individual cases more consistent, accountable, or transparent.

This is the third Overcrowded Times volume. The first, Intermediate Sanctions in Overcrowded Times (Northeastern University Press 1995), had the emphasis its title suggests. The second, Sentencing Reform in Overcrowded Times (Oxford University Press 1997), like this volume, covered developments in selected U.S. states and selected countries. The goal of each volume is to document changes in what various jurisdictions do with persons convicted of crime, and what differences those changes make. For reasons I don't understand, there have never been robust scholarly or professional literatures on these matters. That seems odd, since the defendant standing in the dock is the quintessential instance of the conflict between the interests of the individual and the state. It would not be unreasonable to suppose that scholars and public officials would share and act on an abiding interest in understanding how such conflicts are resolved, and with what effects. In the United States, however, to use a parochial example, there have been but three short bursts of relevant research triggered by the fleeting availability of federal . . .

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