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The politics of punishment: a historical analysis of sentencing policy in England and Wales between 1990 and 2010

Thomas, Phillipa 2020. The politics of punishment: a historical analysis of sentencing policy in England and Wales between 1990 and 2010. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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The punitive turn thesis contends that Western liberal democracies witnessed a change in the intellectual foundations of penality towards the end of the twentieth century. According to authors of a punitive turn, an increase in the length of sentences has been accompanied by a change in the purpose and methods of punishment, which are characterised by an increase in tolerance for the suffering of criminals. Despite becoming one of the most cited phenomena in contemporary penality literature, the thesis is criticised for lacking in definitive core components, grounded explanation and supporting empirical evidence. Critics warn that we are in danger of becoming lost in a false paradigm of theoretical abstraction and general assumptions which exaggerate the impact of transformations concerned without any credible support. This thesis contributes to this debate by constructing a middle-range theory of integrating rich empirical evidence with theoretical claims of the punitive turn, in order to support, dismiss or adapt claims of the punitive turn thesis. An investigation into sentencing legislation in England and Wales between 1990 and 2010 explores the decision-making process at the level of structural processes and organisational agency. Exploration into actual penal developments in England and Wales during the time period covered concludes that there are significant episodes of punitiveness. However, the investigation reveals a number of other, co-evolving and sometimes countertendencies of crime control strategies. This empirical level of analysis suggests that policy outcomes, such as those identified by the punitive turn, are a result of political competition. A multi-centred concept of state governance is utilised in order to explore the complexities of penal policy making and political power. Punitiveness is conceptualised as one of many dispositional powers, which adheres actors to certain ‘rules of meaning and membership’ of concepts of risk and justice. Political competition between dispositions demonstrates political dilemmas and wider policy domains in overcoming them. Thus, penal policy outcomes are the result of negotiations and compromises within the legislative arena. In this way, punitiveness is not beyond the political process and is not an immutable or inevitable state.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 June 2020
Last Modified: 30 Jun 2020 15:49

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