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Comparative criminal justice policy-making in the United States and the UK: the case of private prisons

Jones, Trevor David Butler ORCID: and Newburn, Tim 2005. Comparative criminal justice policy-making in the United States and the UK: the case of private prisons. British Journal of Criminology 45 (1) , pp. 58-80. 10.1093/bjc/azh067

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Recent years have seen a growing focus upon perceived similarities in criminal justice and penal policies in the United States and the United Kingdom. The increasingly punitive nature of penal policy discourse in both countries appears to have given rise to similar developments, such as 'three strikes' sentencing, youth curfews, sex offender registration schemes, 'zero tolerance' policing, etc. At the same time, governments in both countries have adopted a more 'managerial' approach towards criminal justice, including the development of 'risk-based' interventions, and expanding the role of the private sector in the criminal justice system. One body of work explains such developments with reference to globalizing trends visible across many Western industrialized countries (Christie 2000; Garland 2001). Such approaches point to deeper cultural and structural changes being experienced across all 'late modern' capitalist societies. By contrast, other authors highlight the localized and particular aspects of penal systems, and point to the very different trajectories of reform in varying political and cultural contexts (Melossi 2001; Tonry 1999). A precondition to the effective linking of these approaches is a more detailed understanding of the notion of 'policy' and the processes via which it is shaped. A fuller understanding of current developments requires attention to be paid both to 'deep structures' and to the particulars of political decision-making. Drawing upon a major comparative study of criminal justice policy-making, we focus upon the case of the re-birth of privately managed prisons in the United States and the United Kingdom. We compare the process of policy change in each country and analyse the factors shaping key policy decisions. The paper concludes with some observations about the nature of convergence and divergence in the penal policies of different nations.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: K Law > K Law (General)
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISSN: 0007-0955
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2022 09:25

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