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Penal policy making: Elitist, populist or participatory?

Johnstone, Gerry
June 4, 2015

Source: (2000) Punishment & Society. 2(2): 161-180.

Recently, a new approach to penal policy making has emerged in the UK and elsewhere. An elitist model is giving way to a more populist model, in which governments consult ordinary people, especially those living in areas undermined by crime and disorder, before formulating and implementing policies to tackle crime. This trend has been accompanied by a continuing drift towards less tolerant and harsher policies. This article proposes a critical response to this phenomenon. There is little point, it suggests, in yearning for a return to the elitist model. Rather, what is required is a move in the opposite direction, i.e. towards a more participatory style of policy making. A participatory crime policy would not necessarily be intolerant and repressive. To the
contrary, participation is likely to develop and foster the very qualities people need to imagine, formulate and implement more rational responses to escalating rates of crime, violence and disorder. Some principles and ideas which could inform the development of a more participatory crime policy are outlined. Author’s abstract.


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