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date: 07 August 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This essay explores cross-national contexts in the use of imprisonment as a penal policy. Incarceration figures from select countries are presented with accompanying discussions of methodological and measurement challenges. Possible reasons for differences in the use of imprisonment across countries (including social, political, and economic influences) are also provided. The role of public opinion is explored, including similarities and differences in cultural attitudes regarding incarceration and capital punishment. This discussion also focuses on broader cultural differences that might have greater impact on a nation’s use of incarceration compared to specific sentencing polices or crime control strategies. From a global perspective, certain striking examples act as a helpful focal point for broader debate about macro-level factors and conceptual frameworks influencing the use of imprisonment and that may facilitate comparisons between different nations. Illustrative examples are the privatization of prisons and the rise of super maximum security (“supermax”) facilities.

Keywords: cross-national contexts of imprisonment, incarceration, sentencing polices, crime control strategies, privatization of prisons

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