In the past decade, a burgeoning literature has sought to address the growing divide between the United States and other Western liberal democracies with regard to criminal punishment practices. Although all of these countries, the United States included, have experienced many of the same problems over the past forty years — such as steep crime rate increases, a sophisticated international drug trade, and growing threats from terrorism — the United States has seen nothing short of a revolution in its punishment practices since the 1960s, a stunning shift unprecedented in its own history and unique among its contemporaries. American imprisonment rates have soared, increasing fivefold between 1972 and 2007, reflecting and accompanying other punitive criminal justice policies such as “zero tolerance” policing initiatives, expansions of the scope of the substantive criminal law, “three strikes” statutes enhancing punishment for recidivists, in-creased use of criminal sanctions for juvenile offenders, widespread authorization of sentences of life without possibility of parole — and, of course, increased use of the death penalty.
A diverse group of scholars, including historians, sociologists, and legal scholars, has offered various explanations for these radical changes — some complementary, some contradictory. Professor David Garland was an early and influential participant in this scholarly discussion with his generative book The Culture of Control, in which he described the recent trends in crime policy and social attitudes toward crime in both the United States and Britain as the product of “two underlying social forces — the distinctive social organization of late modernity, and the free market, socially conservative politics that came to dominate the USA and the UK in the 1980s.” Now Garland has turned his attention to a crime policy issue that divides the United States from Britain and the rest of the Western industrialized world — the continued retention and use of capital punishment, which accelerated in the United States from the 1970s to the 1990s, the same period in which Europe embraced abolition.You can hear Garland discuss his book during a lecture at NYU by clicking here.