Book review: Punishment, Places and Perpetrators

Mathieu Deflem
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This is a copy of a review published in Law & Politics Book Review 14(9):716-718, 2004.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2004. Review of Punishment, Places and Perpetrators: Developments in Criminology and Criminal Justice Research, edited by Gerben Bruinsma, Henk Effers, and Jan de Keijser. Law & Politics Book Review 14(9):716-718.

Edited books are typically hard to review, except in the rare occasions when a collection is nicely streamlined in terms of approach or theme and consists of uniformly high-quality chapters. PUNISHMENT, PLACES AND PERPETRATORS is not that kind of a book. Instead, this volume is a loosely tied gathering of disparate essays and research papers that are hardly held together at all by any sense of direction of thematic or theoretical substance. Although the Preface announces that this collection will show that the “seemingly isolated” topics of criminology and criminal justice research are “much more related than they appear at first glance” (p.x), I have found little in this book beyond the titles of its three parts that present any unifying element to the myriad of the volume’s subject matters and analytical perspectives. In fact, even the themes of each of the book’s three parts (punishment, location, and criminal careers) are very broadly understood and still cover a considerable variety. Also, although the three themes of this book are indicated in its title, I would have expected the title to refer to a treatise on the interlinking of punishment with place and perpetrators. But that is clearly not the case.

Given the mixture of no less than 18 disparate chapters in this volume, this review will only highlight the central themes of the book and will very selectively focus on those chapters that make a useful contribution to the study of crime and social control. This thematic review will not strictly follow the book’s divisions, but instead will identify thematic overlap among chapters.

A first identifiable set of chapters concerns novel theoretical developments in criminology that are suspected to determine the future of criminological thinking and criminal justice practices. Among the chapters that address these concerns are those that deal with the state and future of the discipline of criminology and with actuarial justice and the risk society. The Introduction by the authors fits in this category. Indicative of some of the other chapters as well, however, the Introduction is replete with speculative comments about the changing nature of crime in the 21st century and other purportedly startling developments of crime and social control in our “rapidly changing world” (p.4). We have been hearing these comments about the novelty of our age for at least two decades now and the slogans on qualitative differences, globalization, fuzziness, risk, change, and challenges have indeed become all too sloganesque. It is clearly time now [*717] for criminologists and other social scientists to drop the rhetoric and move on with the research.

Michael Tonry’s chapter on the state of criminology in Europe is provocative if somewhat speculative and over-stated in its conclusions. Tonry argues that Europeans will once again dominate the criminological scene in the coming years. Enabling this re-Europeanization of criminology, Tonry suspects, are the un-bordering of Europe, the establishment of the European Society of Criminology, the governmental funding that goes to criminological research, the effective influence on policy that European criminology enjoys, and the growing recognition of criminology as an academic discipline. To be sure, Europe has always been more of a thinking culture than the United States with its pragmatism. But these distinctions should not be overstated. There is much misplaced nostalgia involved in looking elsewhere. Having worked in the context of both cultures, I see no sharp differences at all. If anything, there has been a marked convergence from European criminology to resemble U.S. traditions, as much as there have been importations of U.S. criminal justice models to Europe. Differences are maintained in presentation only. Criminology is also an organizational reality involved with impression-management.

Next are a group of chapters on punishment, including a chapter with suggestions for a communication-based normative model of punishment (without reference Habermas) and a few speculative mini-essays. On the topic of punishment, Franklin Zimring brings a more substantive treatment to the theme through a discussion of human rights and democracy in connection with criminal offending. Zimring would have been able to make a very strong claim that human rights should be a central concern in the penal system, both from the viewpoint of the offender as well as the victim and the community. But that would have required much more than the mere five and a half pages offered here.

Next, the themes and perspectives of spatial criminology are dealt with in Part II of this book in chapters on spatial crime prevention, the journey to crime, and the models that underlie such journeys. Among these chapters, David Weisburd’s on the appearance of crime places is by far the most interesting. Weisburd discussed how the concern for place has waxed and waned in criminology. Readers will recall, for instance, the attention to geographic ecology in the Chicago school. However, Weisburd shows, it was not until place acquired new importance in certain police and crime-prevention models that spatial criminology has experienced an upswing.

Next, some of this book’s chapters deal with certain special categories of crime and criminal justice, such as the internationalization of crime and policing, international organized crime, juvenile justice, and criminal careers. In this group of chapters, Henk van de Bunt and Edward Kleemans report on interesting research they have been conducting on the nature of organized crime in the Netherlands. They find that most organized crime is international in scope and is oriented at the substantial monetary profit that can be derived from such illegal cross-border transactions. Unlike the image of organized crime we [*718] know from Hollywood’s romanticized portrayal, organized crime organizations are not out to nestle themselves permanently in a nation’s economic or political structure, but they do tie their activities to legitimate business enterprises. The authors argue that international police and judicial cooperation is needed to effectively fight organized crime.
Peter van der Laan offers a very useful contribution to the study of juvenile justice by means of a comparative analysis that focuses on new developments in several European countries as well as at the level of the new Europe. He notes the rise in community-based types of sentencing, electronic monitoring, and a greater concern for the needs of the victim. Besides convergences, however, van der Laan also sees differences among European nations—e.g., in the extent to which they have incorporated juvenile justice models from the United States.

In the section focusing on criminal careers, Alfred Blumstein discusses some questions that a criminology centered on the concept of the criminal career must take into account. Although Blumstein offers only a snippet of the history of criminological thought devoted to criminal careers (e.g., no reference is made to Sutherland), he provides a nicely formalized model of the issues that are involved in studying a criminal career and, additionally, shows the policy relevance of such an approach.
In the same section, Willem Koops and Bram Orobio de Castro reason from a psychology of development viewpoint to analyze aggression, while Daniel Nagin offers a brief chapter on a group-based method for the analysis of developmental criminal trajectories. Both chapters are a bit sketchy, but contain more promising research. Nagin’s work will be published in more detail in a forthcoming book.

The final two chapters focus on the criminal careers of juvenile offenders and pay special attention to the influence of peers. Mark Warr offers a useful summary of his research on adolescent criminal activity and the networks of criminal activities among friends. Amongst other interesting findings, Warr finds confirmation for Sutherland’s claim that marriage oftentimes reduces criminal involvement because it implies a weakening of former associations with criminal friends.

Overall, the various chapters in this volume are written by a nice mix of scholars. Some of the authors are well-known, others less so, and they come from different nations in Europe and North America. The international appeal of this edited collection, much like others published by Willan, is one of the book’s most admirable characteristics. However, the editors and contributors should have attended more carefully to the manner in which their respective chapters added to the over-all goal of the book in order to present more than a mere mix. I heard some time ago at a meeting that the great sociologist, Pitrim Sorokin, once remarked about a book that it was held together by its binding only. Whether Sorokin actually made the comment I do not know for sure, but I do know that it applies to this book.

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