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“The myth of punitiveness”

June 4, 2015

Source: (2005) Theoretical Criminology. 9(2): 175–201.

There is a widespread claim in the criminological literature that the
current period is characterized by a surge in punitiveness and that
this ‘punitive turn’ is fuelled by a new populism. However, the key
notions of ‘punitiveness’ and ‘populism’ remain largely undefined,
with the result that much of the associated analysis is vague, while
developments are often asserted rather than explained.
Consequently, there is a tendency towards empiricism, on the one
hand, and speculative idealism, on the other. It is not that one
cannot find examples of punitiveness but since the deployment of
punitive sanctions has historically been an endemic feature of the
criminal justice system we are faced with question of ‘what is new?’
In this article it is argued that there has been a one-sided,
exaggerated focus on punitiveness in recent times, which has
detracted from the development of a progressive realist account of
contemporary crime control.


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