Three strikes and you're out: Exploring symbol and substance in American and British crime control politics

  • Jones T
  • Newburn T
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Criminologists have become increasingly interested in the extent to which, and ways in which, criminal justice and penal policy ideas and innovations travel across national boundaries. A particular focus has been the apparent convergence of some aspects of crime control policy in the United States and the United Kingdom associated with policies such as 'zero tolerance' policing, youth curfews, the 'war on drugs', increased use of incarceration and the privatization of criminal justice agencies. This paper focuses upon the area of sentencing policy and, in particular, the emergence of so-called 'two' and 'three strikes' sentencing policies in the United States and the United Kingdom. The paper outlines the contrasting forms and variable impacts of these sentencing policies in different jurisdictions. In particular, it examines the relationship between symbolic and substantial dimensions of policy in contrasting jurisdictions, the degree to which differences are related to the strategic intentions of politicians and policy makers, and the mediating factors of varying legal and political institutions and cultures. The central argument of the paper is that in the context of the political institutions and cultures of some US states, the relationship between symbol and substance is much closer than is the case in other jurisdictions, not least that of the United Kingdom.

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  • Trevor Jones

  • Tim Newburn

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