Public Attitudes and Punitive Policies
This chapter discusses how public attitudes help shape penal policy. It argues that law enforcement and the public have ambivalently embraced an instrumental approach, that is, the threat of or actual punishment as a mechanism through which to shape the behavior of both wrongdoers and people in general. This is not to say that other approaches do not exist, or that people do not disagree; however, the dominant model clearly follows instrumental approaches. Not only does empirical research show that this approach is not particularly effective in determining behavior, but it also is very costly in terms of both resources and negative side effects. Hence, there is a widespread disconnection between policy and empiricism. This has led to a dramatic growth in the American prison population and has soured the relationship between the law, legal authorities, and members of society. It has had a particularly negative impact on the minority community.
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