Sunday, 3 February 2008

Political Economy & Penal Policy: A Comparative Approach

As I have stated before, as a Marxist, I believe crime and the operation of the criminal justice system depend upon to a large extent upon the economical development of society. Certain crimes are impossible under certain economic situations (ie theft (from a shop) and communism) and certain modes of dealing with crime fit better under certain economic systems (imagine cognitive therapy under a slave based or feudal society).
James Dignan and Michael Cavadino are some of the leading penal theorists in the United Kingdom. They have published the key text for courses on the penal system (now in it’s fourth edition I believe) as well as recent material on their own comparative approach to penal systems both in a book and recently in an article in the Winter 07/08 Criminal Justice Matters.
The recent material is what I will focus on, a study of penal practices in 12 different countries. The research has led them to devise a four-fold typology of regime types from these twelve. The first is Neo-Liberal countries, free-market orientated with a minimal welfare state, extreme income differentials and limited social rights. The USA is seen to be the archetypal examples, but in this category falls England and Wales, Australia, New Zealand as well as South Africa.
The second group is what they term Conservative Corporatist countries which are status related but have a much more generous welfare state than neo-liberal countries. Income differentials are pronounced, but not as extreme as neo-liberalism. Germany is seen as the archetypal example of this category, but France, Italy and the Netherlands are also covered by this category.
The third group they describe as Social Democratic Corporatism which have a generous welfare state, minimal income differentials and fairly unconditional social rights. Sweden is the archetype for this group but they also include Finland too.
The fourth and final group is termed Oriental Corporatism which is based on a bureaucratic, private sector ‘welfare corporatism’ with limited income differentials. However there is a distinct hierarchy and a ‘sense of duty’ to those higher up. The archetype (and indeed only country in this group) is Japan.
Their argument is that the group type affects the penal policy in operation in each of the countries. This is backed up by evidence that imprisonment rate varies by these types, thus they present the figures I give below (from the Walmsley, 2007 World Prison Population List)

Country & Prison Population (per 100,000)

USA – 736
South Africa – 335
New Zealand -186
England & Wales – 148
Netherlands – 128
Australia – 126
Italy – 104
Germany – 95
France – 85
Sweden – 82
Finland – 75
Japan – 62

As you can see these figures roughly descend from neo-liberal countries, to conservative corporatist, to social democratic corporatist and finally oriental corporatist.
Cavadino and Dignan argue that this correlation is due to cultural attitudes towards offenders embodied in the political economy of each country. They see this as helping to reinforce certain cultural attitudes towards offending.
I’d argue several things are wrong with this thesis. Firstly, the number of countries covered is very small, this is not a typology that will cover all countries. India, Russia, Brazil and China are all quite large countries and not covered at all by this study. Also there are wide disparities between in particular the neo-liberal countries but also within other groups. Thirdly this argument only takes into account the use of imprisonment, what about non-custodial penalties etc. Finally, I’d argue that although there may be a cultural element involved, neo-liberal countries would tend to have a larger criminal justice system anyway so penal responses are likely to be greater in these countries regardless of cultural differences.


landsker said...

From anothor "angle", the first 4 countries on your list have, to varying extents, begun to use privatised prisons.
Which means that the prison serves two purposes, to punish and correct, and to deliver profits to shareholders.
The situation whereby a judge or police officer owns shares in a profit-making prison is farcical, yet already in the US, there are frequent cases of this expoitative connection, in Britain it would be time perhaps to examine the issue.
No suprise that in those countries, the prison population just keeps growing.
From another angle, over 50% of inmates have learning disabilities, neurological disorders, and low levels of educational achievement.
Taking advantage of the educationally impoverished and the mentally ill to generate income and profits for the able-minded and wealthy is hardly the basis for a civilised and well-rounded nation.

Leftwing Criminologist said...

In the book the authors did a study of prison privatisation trends in these countries. I was meaning to post on it at some point. - but it's not just privatisation of prison management - there's also contracting out which is common in quite a lot of countries too.

David Richy said...

This is great information writing about the political economy policy. Political policy is depend the criminal justice system. It is really difficult for political staff.