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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 222558 
Title: Punitivity in the United States (From International Perspectives on Punitivity, Volume 4, P 79-106, 2008, Helmut Kury and Theodore N. Ferdinand, eds. -- See NCJ-222554)
Author(s): Theodore N. Ferdinand; Helmut Kury
Date Published: 2008
Page Count: 28
Sponsoring Agency: Universitatsverlag Brockmeyer
44797 Bochum,
Sale Source: Universitatsverlag Brockmeyer
Im Haarmannsbusch 112
44797 Bochum,
Germany (Unified)
Type: Legislation/Policy Analysis
Format: Book Chapter
Language: English
Country: Germany (Unified)
Annotation: This essay examines why America's penal laws and court sentencing decisions are so punitive compared to other democratic societies.
Abstract: The authors argue that America's harsh sanctions for felony crimes (more sentences of imprisonment and for longer periods compared to other types of democracies) reflect its heavy reliance on direct elections to fill so many governmental positions at every level. Presidents, members of Congress, State legislators, State chief executives, and major local governmental offices are filled by public elections, as are some county prosecutors, judges, and sheriffs. Direct elections combined with open access to the voting booth for all segments of the population means that public officials who wish to retain their jobs or gain an office for the first time are competing to comply with what the public wants from its public officials. Unfortunately, the general public is not schooled in penal policy and empirical data on what works and does not work in controlling and reducing crime. Neither is the public aware of the cost-effectiveness of high imprisonment rates, the conditions of overcrowded prisons, and the costs involved in building more prisons to reduce overcrowding while continuing sentencing policies that increase inmate populations. In Europe, on the other hand, democratic institutions are widespread, but less dependent on direct elections. Consequently, political leaders have greater discretion in shaping national policies according to expert analyses of complex problems without their jobs depending on the views of the average voter. Moreover, Europe's traditions reflect the standards of a gentile and humane aristocracy whose aversion to punitiveness has survived and even intensified after cycles of barbarism. In America, on the other hand, there is no such humane, gentile tradition that dominates the electorate, which has the last say in the policies followed by those who set sentencing policy. 3 figures and 61 references
Main Term(s): Corrections policies
Index Term(s): Cultural influences; Incarceration; Public Attitudes/Opinion; Punishment; Sentencing trends; Sentencing/Sanctions; United States of America
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