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Tackling prison overcrowdingBuild more prisons? Sentence fewer offenders?$
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Mike Hough, Rob Allen, and Enver Solomon

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9781847421104

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: March 2012

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781847421104.001.0001

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The prisoners' dilemma in England and Wales

The prisoners' dilemma in England and Wales

(p.9) 2 The prisoners' dilemma in England and Wales
Tackling prison overcrowding

Nicola Lacey

Policy Press

Across the developed world today, there exists striking contrasts in the level and quality of imprisonment. In 2006, the imprisonment rates per 100,000 of the population ranged from about 36 in Iceland to 725 in the U.S. This striking difference is generally agreed not to stem from crime rates. Rather, this contrast in imprisonment rates was caused by the differentiated model of varying forms of capitalist economy and democracy. Individualistic ‘liberal market economies’ such as the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand have over the last 50 years experienced striking increases in the imprisonment rate, while ‘coordinated’ market economies such as those of northern Europe and Scandinavia have seen much more stable levels of imprisonment. Within this context, it is argued that the liberal market economies have found themselves in the grip of a ‘prisoners' dilemma’, in which electoral arrangements and other institutional features of the political and economic organisation have created a scenario wherein the strategic capacity for economic and political coordination to reduce punishment is lacking. This chapter focuses on two specific questions. First, what can a comparative political-economy analysis reveal about the purposes of imprisonment in the UK? And second, what reform options would it suggest that might be available to the UK's politicians: Can the high imprisonment levels of the UK be reversed? Is it possible to resist the tendency to use the prison system as a dumping ground for those in respect of whom more reintegrative economic and social policies have failed? And could the economic and political dynamics that feed the populist penal service be countered? In the chapter, it is argued that a proper appreciation of the institutional make-up underpinning the rise in punishment can aid in determining solutions that may be beyond the grasp of contemporary politicians.

Keywords:   imprisonment, capitalist economy, democracy, liberal market economies, prisoners' dilemma, punishment, reform options, prison system, penal service

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