Because crime and punishment are basic human problems, policy makers and analysts charged with formulating better solutions ought to look widely for relevant knowledge both within and beyond national borders. In practice, barriers of language and parochialism have long been obstacles. But they should be no longer.
There has been little genuinely cross-national or comparative scholarship on sentencing and sanctions, though there are domestic literatures within countries that can be compared. Our aim was to contribute to the development of such a body of scholarship by persuading leading scholars in several countries to discuss sentencing and punishment in their countries and the causes and consequences of major recent changes, and by persuading others to look across national boundaries at international developments and at issues that arise in every country. In doing this, we follow the lead of Chris Clarkson and Rod Morgan, who edited a similar book, The Politics of Sentencing Reform (Clarendon Press, 1995), based on papers presented at a conference in Bristol, England, in 1993. We have extended their efforts by including more civil law countries within the scope of this volume and by commissioning essays on explicitly international subjects.
The chapters in this volume were initially prepared for a May 1998 conference in Minneapolis entitled “Sentencing Policy in Comparative International Perspective: Recent Changes within and across National Boundaries.” The conference was sponsored by the University of Minnesota Law School and the Max Planck Institute for International and Comparative Criminal Law in Freiburg, Germany. The tactical aim was to bring together researchers from the United States and other Western countries to discuss current knowledge about sentencing and sanctions in individual countries, and also what is known or knowable about the effectiveness of particular practices. The strategic aim was to consider whether practices that appear to achieve important public purposes in some countries can or should be adopted by others and whether the spread of ineffective or failed practices can be prevented.