Back to RJ Archive

Criminal justice policy in France: Illusions of severity.

Roche, Sebastian
June 4, 2015

Source: (2007) Crime and Justice. 36(1): 471-550.

Penal policies and politics in France since the 1960s have followed their own distinct patterns. Though crime rates rose
steeply, legislators enacted harsher maximum penalty laws, and prison sentence lengths increased, the prison population
trended up only slightly; it would be an exaggeration to say that policies and practices became harsher across the board.
Use of the death penalty declined, and it was abolished in 1981. Imprisonment of young offenders did not rise. The
number of prison admissions halved. A wide range of alternative dispositions and processes emerged, and the use of
pardons and amnesties to control the prison population expanded amid little public, political, or media controversy. On
some subjects, “veto players” successfully resisted the adoption of harsh policies they disapproved. Three lessons stand
out. First, use of imprisonment rates alone to characterize penal policy trends or severity can be fundamentally misleading.
Second, French policy makers remain fundamentally skeptical about the value or desirability of imprisonment.
Third, neither political nor popular cultures in France are caught up in Anglo-Saxon punitiveness, thereby enabling diversionary
programs, informal procedures, and widespread pardons and amnesties to survive and thrive. (Abstract).


Support the cause

We've Been Restoring Justice for More Than 40 Years

Your donation helps Prison Fellowship International repair the harm caused by crime by emphasizing accountability, forgiveness, and making amends for prisoners and those affected by their actions. When victims, offenders, and community members meet to decide how to do that, the results are transformational.

Donate Now