Thinking about Crime: Sense and Sensibility in American Penal Culture

Overview


Crime is an American preoccupation. Campaigns such as "the war on drugs," zero tolerance policing, and three strikes and you're out--not to mention the ever-shrill coverage of crime stories-all suggest a perpetually outraged nation determined to keep its criminal element at bay, no matter the cost.

But is this really what average Americans think about crime and crime control measures? Or is the "no holds barred" approach merely another oscillation in an ongoing cycle of ...

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Thinking about Crime: Sense and Sensibility in American Penal Culture : Sense and Sensibility in American Penal Culture

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Overview


Crime is an American preoccupation. Campaigns such as "the war on drugs," zero tolerance policing, and three strikes and you're out--not to mention the ever-shrill coverage of crime stories-all suggest a perpetually outraged nation determined to keep its criminal element at bay, no matter the cost.

But is this really what average Americans think about crime and crime control measures? Or is the "no holds barred" approach merely another oscillation in an ongoing cycle of intolerance and tolerance in American thinking? Have prevailing but short-lived sensibilities on crime overruled our common sense?

In this wide-ranging analysis, Michael Tonry argues that those responsible for crafting America's criminal justice policy have lost their way in a forest of good intentions, political cynicism, and public anxieties. American crime control politics over time have created a punishment system no one would knowingly have chosen yet one that no one seems able to change. Fueled by knee-jerk rhetoric and moral panics, the current crime control regime is founded on short-term thinking and the personal ambitions of politicians terrified of appearing "soft on crime," rather than on policies that work.

Tonry demonstrates that attitudes toward crime in America are cyclical. Prevailing sensibilities rather than timeless truths govern the American war on crime, resulting in policies both wasteful and harsh. U.S. crime trends closely resemble those of other nations, yet American policies are very different. The evolution of the war on drugs is an example; sentencing grew steadily harsher long after the drug problem itself eased. Seamlessly blending history with an easy presentation of day-to-day realities and empirical evidence, Tonry proposes tangible, specific solutions that can serve as a platform for criminal justice reform.

A spirited manifesto rooted in a lifetime of crime expertise, Tonry's book calls on politician and policymakers to choose the right path, not the easy or politically expedient one. We know how to create an effective and humane criminal justice system. Now we must have the courage to do so, by abandoning the current status quo, which is both costly and cruel in favor of practices that will move America closer to the mainstream of contemporary Western values.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Thinking about Crime is a lively analysis of American exceptionalism in penal policy, depicting and explaining the United States crime control industry's position as the unquestioned behemoth among Western nations."--Times Literary Supplement

"Thinking About Crime is a provocative and important book that should be required reading for policymakers and students of criminal justice. Tonry presents a convincing and carefully crafted analysis of contemporary crime control policies, which he contends are overly severe, wasteful, and unfair. Using historical and cross-national data, he demonstrates that the harshly punitive policies adopted by the United States--but rejected by policymakers in other Western countries--have been shaped by American sensibilities toward crime, criminals, and punishment. Tonry's prescriptions for reform are reasonable; following them will produce a more humane and effective criminal justice system."--Law and Politics Book Review

"Anyone making criminal justice policy should read Thinking About Crime. In this book, Michael Tonry closely examines the very different ways nations have responded to changing crime patterns and shifting cultural sensibilities over the past several decades. In so doing, he offers an intriguing analysis of how and why the United States has emerged at the beginning of the twenty-first century with by far the most punitive but by no means the most effective punishment policy. His ability to navigate complexities and render them obvious, makes this important book a pleasure to read." --Bill Bradley, former U.S. Senator, New Jersey

"Norval Morris recommended this manuscript to me--and what a great recommendation that turned out to be. Here we have solid insights into a system gone awry. The cost is needless suffering and huge distortions in our spending priorities." --Paul Simon, former U.S. Senator, Illinois

"No one would have chosen the criminal justice system America now has....it is too severe, too expensive and locks up too many black and poor Americans. In this brilliant book, Michael Tonry shows how things came to be as they are and how they can be made better." --Carol Moseley Braun, former U.S. Senator, Illinois

"Michael Tonry is one of the most provocative editors and authors in matters of crime policy. In Thinking About Crime, he challenges the spate of punitive actions that characterized the final third of the last century. He brings historical and cross-national perspectives to this important inquiry into how America's punishment polices went out of control. Drawing on his extensive experience in sentencing and corrections, he provides a number of sober suggestions for bringing restraint back into the punishment process. This is an important book that should be widely read and discussed." --Al Blumstein, co-editor of The Crime Drop

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Michael Tonry is one of the nation's most respected experts on crime and punishment. The author of the highly acclaimed Malign Neglect and (with Norval Morris) Between Prison and Probation, he is director of the Institute of Criminology, Cambridge University, and Sonosky Professor of Law and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota. He has worked as an advisor to federal and state agencies in the United States, Australia and Canada, to national government agencies in European countries, and to international organizations.

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Table of Contents

1 Sense and Sensibility in American Penal Culture 3
2 Why So Many Americans Are in Prison 21
3 Cycles and Sensibilities 63
4 Moral Panics and "Windows of Opportunity" 85
5 Crime Trends and the Effects of Crime Control Policies 97
6 Formerly Unthinkable Policies 141
7 Unthought Thoughts 169
8 Better Understanding, People, and Policies 195
References 229
Index 249
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