Symbol, Substance, and Severity in Western Penal Policies

Michael Tonry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Similar economic transformations, public opinion patterns, social developments and crime trends have affected most western countries over the past few decades. Punishment trends, however, whether measured in terms of imprisonment rates, average sentence lengths, preferences for or against short or long prison sentences and adoption of various forms of new community penalties vary widely. Why similar economic, social, crime and public opinion trends have such different effects on penal policy is not known. Many explanations for penal policy trends have some explanatory weight for particular countries but few are broadly generalizable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)517-536
Number of pages20
JournalPunishment & Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2001


  • imprisonment
  • normative cycles
  • populist punitivism
  • punishment
  • sensibilities
  • tolerance


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