Book review: Comparative Criminal Justice

Mathieu Deflem
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This is a copy of a book review of Comparative Criminal Justice by Francis Pakes, in British Journal of Criminology 44(5):821-823, September 2004.
Also available in PDF format.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2004. Review of Comparative Criminal Justice, by Francis Pakes. British Journal of Criminology 44(5):821-823.

The field of comparative criminal justice has grown considerably over the past years. This development towards the study of crime and criminal justice in various societies across the world has no doubt been fueled by the increasing and understandable, if not always deeply meaningful, recognition among criminologists that issues of crime and their societal response are subject to forces of globalization as much as they are the product of nationally variable trends. As a fortunate if largely unintended consequence, comparative criminal justice research is also recognized to be able to lead the way to offer empirical insights into criminal justice matters across the world in order to test our theories of crime and crime control with respect to generality requirements. Comparative criminal justice research is rarely parochial. While it is no doubt in the very nature of crime to remain primarily a local concern and while no undue ‘complexities’ have to be assumed in order to discuss or pseudo-theorize any so-called ‘transnational’ developments of crime and its policing and control, there can also be no doubt that an ever-shrinking world needs research of comparative criminal justice today and tomorrow more than ever before. The introductory textbook, Comparative Criminal Justice, by Francis Pakes offers a valuable addition to this important criminological objective.

Pakes’ book is primarily oriented at university students an intermediate level. Pakes first introduces the aims of comparative criminal justice to subsequently explain the main features of this field on the basis of a thematic approach. This subject-oriented perspective of this book is a welcome change from the more usual, and far less insightful, country-by-country approach that dominates most comparative criminal justice textbooks. The emphasis in Pakes’ work, also, is resolutely on criminal justice issues connected to social control, rather than on criminal or deviant activity. Thus Pakes reviews comparative issues of criminal justice more or less following the well-known funnel model of criminal justice from policing over courts and the judiciary to punishment. Special attention is given to the rise of international law and the future direction of criminal justice research from a comparative perspective.

Briefly reviewing the key themes in this book, Pakes first outlines both theoretical and practical reasons to engage in the study of comparative criminal justice, referring to both an intellectual sense of curiosity and the increasing practical need of cooperation efforts across the criminal justice agencies of nations. Pakes also introduces (and uses through his book) various methodological tools in the comparative study of criminal justice, including case-based techniques and quantitative tools.

Examining the most interesting police and policing issues, Pakes strikes familiar ground in debating the role of community policing, the unique features of the police in some countries, the re-birth of private policing, and the rise of zero-tolerance police methods and their dispersal across many parts of the world. Turning to the judicial processing of offenders, Pakes reviews various prosecutorial styles in selected nations and the role of magistrates in different legal systems, such as those based on inquisitorial and on adversarial principles, as well the legal traditions in the Arab world and other non-Western societies. Special attention is devoted to the changing role of juries. The chapter on punishment includes discussions of the evolution of the prison system, as the preferred type of punishment across many nations but in sharply differing degrees, and the special place of the death penalty as the ultimate punishment. In the final chapter devoted to substantive developments of criminal justice, Pakes briefly mentions the role of international police developments and discusses similar developments in law, especially the development of war crimes tribunals and the establishment of the International Court of Justice. Theoretical and research concerns for criminal justice in light of current concerns surrounding technologically advanced crime and terrorism round off the themes discussed in this book.

I find this introductory textbook by Pakes to be very useful for its primary purpose as an introductory textbook for university students. I would encourage teachers to use Pakes’ book to provide a general framework in courses on comparative or international criminal justice which additionally incorporate discussions of more specific issues on the basis of books and articles drawn from the more specialized literature in the various areas of investigation, such as comparative policing, comparative legal systems, comparative perspectives of punishment, and international police cooperation. No doubt betraying my own research interests, I can of course not be pleased with Pakes’ very minimal discussion of international police developments and the exclusion of the most significant academic work in this area on the basis of the theory of police bureaucratization. More serious attention to this scholarship would have prevented the misleading discussion of international policing in relation to international law.

It is inevitable in the case of a textbook that is meant to be introductory that the author will be selective. In the case of comparative research, this problem is further amplified by the fact that each theme of concern is to be discussed cross-nationally, an objective that ironically can never be met in perfection. The moderate slant in this textbook towards developments of criminal justice in (or originating from) the United Kingdom, therefore, mirrors a similar focus towards matters pertinent or linked to the United States in such textbooks published in this country. But Pakes makes a good effort to incorporate both old and new developments of criminal justice as well as aspects of criminal justice systems of countries that are often ignored. All in all, then, Pakes’ is a useful textbook that teachers can use in addition to more in-depth studies of selected areas of criminological concern.

See other writings on social control and criminal justice.