CRIME DOES NOT CAUSE PUNISHMENT: The impact of sentencing policy on levels of crime

  • Michael Tonry University of Minnesota
Keywords: sentencing, South Africa, crime, correctional service, crime rate


If countries can learn from one another, South Africa can learn from the experiences of other countries that have re-organised their sentencing systems in recent decades. South Africa’s correctional system has many similarities to America’s – seriously overcrowded prisons, sentences that are too long, stark disparities, and therefore injustices, in sentences received for comparable crimes. American solutions – mandatory minimums, prison terms measured in decades not years – have neither reduced crime rates nor made streets safer. Nor will they in South Africa. Comparisons of countries with very different sentencing policies and punishment practices – Canada versus the United States, Finland versus the rest of Scandinavia, England versus Scotland – show that sentencing and punishment have little discernible effect on crime trends and patterns. Crime trends and patterns in most developed countries move in broad parallel, irrespective of national punishment policies.

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