Leaving the Shining City on a Hill: A Plea for Rediscovering Comparative Criminal Justice Policy in the United States

Alessandro Corda, Rhys Hester

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Over the past several decades, American penal exceptionalism—the tendency for U.S. penal policies and practices to proudly diverge from those of other Western countries—has severely limited the development of comparative criminal justice research from a U.S. perspective. However, in recent years, a growing consensus that America’s criminal justice policies and practices are too expensive, ineffective, excessively punitive, and often inhumane has laid the ground for a new phase of soul-searching. This article argues for an explicit rediscovering of comparative criminal justice policy in America, which would prove extremely helpful in providing bold yet practicable solutions in the current commendable but unimaginative era of criminal justice reform. We first contend that American exceptionalism is not as embedded in U.S. penal policy and culture as the past few decades might seem to suggest. Second, we discuss the main causes of the gradual demise of the comparative criminal justice enterprise in America. Finally, we discuss two areas of U.S. criminal justice reform suggesting mechanisms of comparative criminal justice policy that should be nurtured: (1) new prison reform initiatives pointing to renewed openness to comparative insights and (2) the growing chorus calling for prosecutorial reform, showing how many of the reform ideas proffered tap into characteristics found in continental systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-223
Number of pages21
JournalInternational Criminal Justice Review
Issue number2
Early online date02 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


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