The moral psychology of penal populism

Authored by: Leonidas K. Cheliotis , Sappho Xenakis

The Routledge Handbook of Criminal Justice Ethics

Print publication date:  July  2016
Online publication date:  July  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415708654
eBook ISBN: 9781315885933
Adobe ISBN: 9781134619450


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Scholarship has paid due recognition to the excessive overuse of harsh criminal justice measures such as imprisonment in a large and growing range of jurisdictions around the world over the last four decades or so. What has yet to receive sufficient attention in this regard is the relationship between criminal justice policy-making and public attitudes. More specifically, there is little clarity as to whether publics tend to disapprove of government decisions but are practically ignored by elites in office, or popular preferences are more or less reflected in government decisions, with any discordances pertaining only to particulars. In addition, to the extent that the level and nature of penal policies are thought to be reflective of popular preferences, it is commonly left unclear whether government elites engage in what Bottoms (1995) terms “populist punitiveness” or rather deploy strategies of what Roberts et al. (2003) call “penal populism”; that is, whether they merely respond to punitive public opinion (or, at least, what they believe public opinion to be) or, conversely, feign responsiveness to punitive public attitudes that they have previously largely incited themselves. 1

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