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The Prisoners' Dilemma


  • 2 b/w illus. 1 table
  • Page extent: 254 pages
  • Size: 216 x 138 mm
  • Weight: 0.46 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521899475)

Over the last two decades, and in the wake of increases in recorded crime and other social changes, British criminal justice policy has become increasingly politicised as an index of governments' competence. New and worrying developments, such as the inexorable rise of the US prison population and the rising force of penal severity, seem unstoppable in the face of popular anxiety about crime. But is this inevitable? Nicola Lacey argues that harsh 'penal populism' is not the inevitable fate of all contemporary democracies. Notwithstanding a degree of convergence, globalisation has left many of the key institutional differences between national systems intact, and these help to explain the striking differences in the capacity for penal tolerance in otherwise relatively similar societies. Only by understanding the institutional preconditions for a tolerant criminal justice system can we think clearly about the possible options for reform within particular systems.

• Written by a leading expert in criminal law and legal theory • Takes into account the increasing politicisation of British criminal justice policy over the last 20 years • Proposes a range of potential options for reform in Britain and America


Part I. Punishment in Contemporary Democracies: 1. 'Penal populism' in comparative perspective; 2. Explaining penal tolerance and severity: criminal justice in the perspective of political economy; Part II. Prospects for the Future: Escaping the Prisoners' Dilemma?: 3. Inclusion and exclusion in a globalizing world: Is penal moderation in co-ordinated market economies under threat?; 4. Confronting the prisoners' dilemma: the room for policy manoeuvre in liberal market economies.


'It was a privilege to have been asked to review this book. Nicola Lacey seems certain to join that select list of Hamlyn lecturers … who, over the years, have provided significant reference points for criminologists as well as jurisprudentially inclined lawyers. … Lacey has done criminology a profound service by highlighting the core issues. This short text deserves a place on every student reading list.' British Journal of Criminology

'This is too small a space to do justice to Lacey's discerning consideration of [the] issues and her impressive (and creditable) incorporation of research in political philosophy, criminology, welfare economics, and social theory to make her points.' The Edinburgh Law Review

'The rise of American mass incarceration, and similar but less dramatic developments elsewhere, has given rise to much speculation and analysis of comparative penal development, of which The Prisoners' Dilemma is the latest and one of the most interesting and provocative examples. If we are fortunate, Nicola Lacey's work will stimulate a lot more comparative research. … [Her] thoughtful and original thesis provides a research agenda for a whole generation of new comparative scholars. We can only hope that they decide to rise to the challenge.' The Modern Law Review

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