Notes from Some Small Countries: A Study of the 'New Punitiveness' in Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand

Claire Hamilton

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


    In recent years there has been a remarkable surge of interest in the concept of punitiveness in theoretical criminology. Accounts serve to emphasise rupture over continuity, drawing attention to the increased focus on managerialism, risk and expressive penal policies in countries such as England and the US. Criticisms of these accounts have drawn attention to the weak empirical base for such assertions and the continued relevance of local cultural, historical and political conditions in mediating the effect of more punitive trends. In light of the relative neglect of smaller jurisdictions in this literature it was decided to locate these debates in three small common law jurisdictions, namely, Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand over the period 1976-2006 with a view to assessing the empirical evidence for penal change. This was done using a broader definition of punitiveness than normally employed incorporating indices relating to the ‘front end’ (eg police powers) as well as the ‘back end’ (eg prison and probation) of the criminal justice system. Data were collected on the three case studies using a multi-method approach involving examination of extensive quantitative data, interviews with key criminal justice stakeholders and documentary analysis. The data provide some support for the ‘new punitiveness’ thesis in these countries through a pattern of increased legislative activity aimed at controlling violent and sexual offenders and significant increases in the lengths of sentences imposed. However, analysis of qualitative data and a larger number of variables reveals distinctly different patterns of punitiveness over the thirty year period in the three countries. It is argued that the study holds important lessons for comparative criminology into the ‘new punitiveness’. There is a need for qualitative as well as quantitative data; for multiple rather than singular indices across a wide range of areas (juvenile justice, prison conditions, etc); and for ‘front end’ as well as ‘back end’ indices.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationPunitiveness: International Developments
    EditorsHelmut Kury, Evelyn Shea
    Place of PublicationBochum
    PublisherUniversitaetsverlag Brockmeyer
    Number of pages124
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Punitiveness, comparison.


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