Pardon and Parole in Prohibition-Era New York: Discretionary Justice in the Administrative State
Osgoode Hall Law Journal, Vol. 54(3), Forthcoming
27 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2017
Date Written: June 15, 2017
Historians of early-modern England and British colonies have productively applied Douglas Hay’s germinal study of mercy. In contrast, historians of the U.S. have overlooked the utility of the conceptual tools Hay provided to prise open the mitigation of punishment across time and place. In the decade that followed the First World War, disputes over the proper role of mercy and administrative discretion were as heated as they were in Hanoverian England. In Jazz Age New York, fears of gangsterism, and concern over the apparent laxity of parole regulations put the proponents of Progressive penology on the defensive. To analyse this moment, this essay asks what drove opinion against discretionary justice in the form of the pardon and parole, and traces the conditions that give rise to judgments that discretionary justice was too frequent and injudicious. A new vision of order, fixated on penal certainty, came into sharp focus over the 1920s, when mandatory sentencing statutes were introduced. Yet gubernatorial clemency survived that crisis, and in 1930 parole was professionalized and placed under stricter management. This paper confirms that modernity proved no match for discretionary justice. In its personal and administrative forms, it penetrates penal justice, despite the earnest drive to certainty and the persistent demands to terrorize criminals.
Keywords: Mandatory Sentencing, Mercy, Discretion, Criminal Justice, Parole
JEL Classification: K00, K140, K400, K420, N400
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation