Illusions of Severity [ 03/17/2009 ]

[ 03/17/2009 ]

Penal policies and politics in France since the 1960s have followed their own distinct patterns. Though crime rates rose steeply, legislators enacted harsher maximum penalty laws, and prison sentence lengths increased, the prison population trended up only slightly; it would be an exaggeration to say that policies and practices became harsher across the board. Use of the death penalty declined, and it was abolished in 1981. Imprisonment of young offenders did not rise. The number of prison admissions halved. A wide range of alternative dispositions and processes emerged, and the use of pardons and amnesties to control the prison population expanded amid little public, political, or media controversy. On some subjects, « veto players » successfully resisted the adoption of harsh policies they disapproved. Three lessons stand out. First, use of imprisonment rates alone to characterize penal policy trends or severity can be fundamentally misleading. Second, French policy makers remain fundamentally skeptical about the value or desirability of imprisonment. Third, neither political nor popular cultures in France are caught up in Anglo-Saxon punitiveness, thereby enabling diversionary programs, informal procedures, and widespread pardons and amnesties to survive and thrive.
Criminal Justice Policy in France: Illusions of Severity. Author. Roche, S. Journal title. CRIME AND JUSTICE -CHICAGO 2007, VOL 36, pages 471-550
Sebastian Roche, Université de Grenoble


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