Based on a lecture to policy makers in Brazil, this essay explores lessons that developing nations can learn from US experiences in the fight against violence and crime. A brief summary of trends in crime, criminal justice policy, and criminal punishment in the US over the past four decades is followed by an evaluation of the dominant imprisonment strategy of the 1970s through 1990s. It is argued that benefits of the massive increase in criminal punishment have been few and that costs have been excessive in terms of material, human, and social capital. Nonetheless, the American experience provides inspiration when we consider the broader societal potential for social organization: values and norms; self-interest and involvement in legitimate exchange networks; mobilization of social capital; and diverse mechanisms of social control. These concepts are explained, and specific institutions and mechanisms to control violence and crime are explored under each of them.
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This paper is based on a lecture presented at the seminar “Sao Paulo Sem Medo” in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May 6–9, 1997. This is a revised version of a text that appeared originally in Portuguese as “Controlando a violência: a justiça criminal, a societade e a lições dos Estados Unidos,” pages 209–226 in São Paulo Sem Medo: Um Diagnóstico da Violência Urbana, Rio de Janeiro: Garamond in 1998. The event was organized by the Center for the Study of Violence at the University of Sao Paulo and supported by Rede Globo Television network.