American exceptionalism in crime and punishment

Research output: Book/ReportBook

11 Scopus citations


The idea of American exceptionalism has made frequent appearances in discussions of criminal justice policies-as it has in many other areas-to help portray or explain problems that are especially acute in the United States, including mass incarceration, retention of the death penalty, racial and ethnic disparities in punishment, and the War on Drugs. While scholars do not universally agree that it is an apt or useful framework, there is no question that the United States is an outlier compared with other industrialized democracies in its punitive and exclusionary criminal justice policies. This book deepens the debate on American exceptionalism in crime and punishment through comparative political, economic, and historical analyses, working toward forward-looking prescriptions for American law, policy, and institutions of government. The chapters expand the existing American Exceptionalism literature to neglected areas such as community supervision, economic penalties, parole release, and collateral consequences of conviction; explore claims of causation, in particular that the history of slavery and racial inequality has been a primary driver of crime policy; examine arguments that the framework of multiple governments and localized crime control, populist style of democracy, and laissez-faire economy are implicated in problems of both crime and punishment; and assess theories that cultural values are the most salient predictors of penal severity and violent crime. The book asserts that the largest problems of crime and justice cannot be brought into focus from the perspective of a single jurisdiction and that comparative inquiries are necessary for an understanding of the current predicament in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages565
ISBN (Electronic)9780190203559
ISBN (Print)9780190203542
StatePublished - Dec 21 2017


  • American exceptionalism
  • Criminal justice
  • Death penalty
  • Ethnic disparity
  • Mass incarceration
  • Racial disparity
  • War on Drugs

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