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October 9, 2013

"Anormative Conceptions of Punishment and Humanitarian Ideals"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available via SSRN authored by the prolific and profound Michael Tonry. Here is the abstract:

For the past quarter century, scholars have identified and attempted to explain large differences and changes over time in countries’ penal policies as expressed in their imprisonment rates.  Explanations differ, and imprisonment rates change, sometimes radically, but one thing has remained the same.  The countries atop the rankings have consistently included the United States, South Africa, Russia, the Baltics, Ukraine, and Belarus.

What distinguishes them, and more recently England and Wales, which has led the Western European league tables for two decades, is that they are countries in which punishment discourses, policies, and practices take little account of the interests of offenders.  "There but for the grace of God…" empathy is largely absent.  Mainstream retributive and consequentialist theories of punishment appear to have little influence. Policies and practices, and the implicit punishment theory might best be described as anormative.

October 9, 2013 at 11:07 PM | Permalink


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Prof. Berman, don't you ever just get bored with promoting pro-criminal, rent seeking lawyer lying propaganda? As a palate cleanser, don't you ever wish to find a pro-victim item, perhaps once in 100 posts? I cannot remember a single one in several years. Doesn't that just get boring intellectually?

20 million FBI Index felonies. 2 million prosecutions, most resulting in a slap on the wrist, and coddling, instead of educational, painful, memorable punishment. To deter, specifically.

With only 1 in 10 major crimes resulting in any inconvenience to the criminal, the US has to be among the softest nations on the criminal, and the harshest, most heartless, pitiless toward the victim of violent crime, especially black people. One explanation is its land mass. Canada is bigger and less populated, and is even softer on all sorts of subhuman filth, motorcycle gangs, Muslim terrorists, serial killers. If you have massive land and very little population, then a human life, even that of a subhuman vermin, becomes over-valued.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 9, 2013 11:27:27 PM

"...they are countries in which punishment discourses, policies, and practices take little account of the interests of offenders."

I heartily agree.

Of course, something more needs to be said. The "interests of offenders" are, by far, getting away with it. The interests of normal people are to make sure they don't.

I am ceaselessly amazed by what passes for "insight" in legal academia.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 9, 2013 11:30:25 PM

Michael Tonry. Yale law degree.


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 10, 2013 1:06:44 AM

@Bill Otis

The author of this paper forgot to thinks about the political turnoil, which raised crime rates and thus imprisonment rates, experimented by South Africa and the countries born from the dissoluion of the Soviet Union (Russia, Belarus, Latvia et al.).

Posted by: visitor | Oct 10, 2013 12:07:10 PM

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