American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment: Broadly Defined

Posted: 26 Dec 2017  

Kevin R Reitz

University of Minnesota Law School; Robina Institute of Criminal Law & Criminal Justice

Date Written: December 20, 2017

Abstract

In the mid and late 20th century, the U.S. diverged markedly from other Western nations first in its high rates of serious violent crime, and soon after in the severity of its governmental responses. This has left an appalling legacy of American exceptionalism in crime and punishment (“AECP”) for the new century. When the U.S. is compared with other Western countries, and criticized as an outlier in criminal justice policy, the conversation usually narrows to two subjects: (1) high incarceration rates; and (2) the nation’s continued use of the death penalty. One goal of this book is to broaden the scope of AECP inquiry to include sanctions beyond incarceration and the death penalty. From what we know, the U.S. imposes and administers probation, parole, economic sanctions, and collateral consequences of conviction with a heavier hand than other developed democracies. “Mass punishment” in America goes well beyond “mass incarceration,” and severe racial disparities exist across the full spectrum of criminal penalties. In addition, the book insists that any discussion of AECP should focus on serious violent crime in the U.S. along with the nation’s penal severity. More often than not, American crime is discounted in the academic literature as having little or no causal influence on the harshness of American criminal punishment. With respect to homicide and other serious violence, this is a mistake. The chapter starts with a brief tour of the conventional AECP subject areas of incarceration and the death penalty. Next, it introduces claims that a wider menu of sanction types should be included in AECP analyses. Finally, it speaks to the importance of late-twentieth-century crime rates to U.S. punitive expansionism.

Keywords: Comparative Criminal Justice Policy, Mass Incarceration, American Exceptionalism in Crime, American Exceptionalism in Punishment, Prison Rates, Serious Violent Crime, Mass Probation, Mass Supervision, Probation, Parole, Economic Sanctions, Collateral Consequences, Death Penalty

Suggested Citation

Reitz, Kevin R, American Exceptionalism in Crime and Punishment: Broadly Defined (December 20, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3091213

Kevin R Reitz (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States
612-626-3078 (Phone)

Robina Institute of Criminal Law & Criminal Justice ( email )

University of Minnesota Law School
229 19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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