Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Prisons and Politics.

American policies were driven by public opinion while British ones were shaped by elite preferences. As a result, victim surveys show that by the late 1990s the British robbery rate was one-quarter higher and the burglary and assault rates twice as high as those in this country.

This raises the interesting question of why elite views should be so different from popular ones. Some possible explanations: Elites can more easily protect themselves from criminal attacks; elites tend to have a therapeutic rather than punitive view of crime; elites in parliamentary regimes are protected against sharp swings in public moods.

There are a lot of criticisms one can make of prisons, but sending offenders there, provided it is done correctly and without abuse, is an eminently democratic strategy: We deprive guilty people of liberty to make innocent people safer.

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