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Research Summary

For more than three decades, the penal harm movement, which involves “get tough” ideology and policies, has held sway over U.S. corrections. Scholars have justifiably detailed and decried this movement, but in so doing, they have also inadvertently contributed to the view that a punitive worldview is hegemonic. In contrast, we detail four major “cracks” in the penal harm movement's dominance: the persistence of rehabilitative public attitudes, the emergence of second thoughts about the wisdom of harsh sanctions, the implementation of progressive programs, and the increasing legitimacy of the principles of effective intervention for guiding correctional practices.

Policy Implications

Taken together, these “cracks” comprise evidence that ideological space and political will exist to fight the penal harm movement and to map out a more efficacious and progressive response to crime. Because of the persistence of social welfare sentiments and growing challenges to the legitimacy of “get tough” policies, the potential to continue, if not expand, this countermovement is present. Taking advantage of this opportunity, however, will require forfeiting the belief that there is no escape from a punitive future and undertaking systematic efforts to devise correctional strategies that are based on solid science, improve offenders' lives, and protect public safety.

Keywords: correctional reform; limits of punishment; penal harm movement; progressive policies

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Assistant professor in the Department of Justice Studies at Kent State University. 2: Doctoral student in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati. 3: Distinguished Research Professor of Criminal Justice and Sociology at the University of Cincinnati. 4: Professor and head of the Division of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati.

Publication date: August 1, 2008

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