Comparative Criminal Justice Policy-Making in the U.S. and U.K.: The Case of Privatized Corrections

Trevor Jones, Cardiff University
Tim Newburn, London School of Economics

A number of authors have remarked upon the apparent convergence in crime control policy between the USA and UK in recent years. This has been associated with developments such as 'zero tolerance' policing, harsher sentencing policies, higher rates of incarceration, and privatization of criminal justice agencies. 'Structuralist' explanations of convergence link similarities in penal policy in different nation states to deeper cultural and structural changes being experienced across all 'late modern' capitalist societies. By contrast, 'agency-led' approaches focus upon political decision-making, and the growth of deliberate policy transfer and imitation by policy actors. In this paper we argue that both approaches would benefit from a more detailed consideration of what 'policy' is and how it is formed. Drawing upon a major comparative study of criminal justice policy-making, we focus upon the case of growing private sector involvement in corrections in the US and UK. The paper provides a detailed analysis of the process of policy change in both countries and outlines the factors shaping key policy decisions. We then explore the ways in which social and cultural forces highlighted by 'structuralist' accounts actually play themselves out within the agendas, alternatives and decisions of key policy actors and institutions. The paper concludes with some observations about the nature of convergence between criminal justice systems and the determinants of penal policy.

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Updated 05/20/2006