HFG Punishment Project
"The great increase in state punishment in some of the
most developed countries will undoubtedly come to be seen
as one of the more distinctive phenomena of the last quarter
of our century," says Sean McConville, a historian of
criminal justice who is directing an HFG working group on
the issue of punishment.
Aggression and violence are part of the potential behavior
of every human being; however, so is self-control and the
preferred use of affiliative behaviors or perhaps the threat
of violence in the struggle to get one's own way. Extraordinarily
aggressive behavior is not the best way to assure personal
status and gain, even in groups without laws against it--all
animals which live in social groups have ways of punishing
offenders, usually by withholding what social animals need
most, society and the aid and succor of the social group.
Human society has elaborated these practices into our codes
of laws and punishments. However it is unlikely that most
people would choose to assault and hurt other people even
if they could get away with it. Why do we need punishment?
Participants are evaluating claims for the effectiveness
of punishment at changing individual behaviors and of the
threat of punishment at deterring violent acts. We are also
discussing why people have such faith in the effectiveness
of punishment and conviction that it must be a part of justice.
This has been addressed in part by examining how punishment
functions in domains outside the criminal justice system--in
child rearing, theology, and as a system of social control
in sub-state societies. Other contributors are looking at
the economics of the criminal justice system and the contribution
of the criminal justice system to rebuilding civil society
after periods of repression and war. Several group meetings
have been held and manuscripts submitted for a book which
should be ready to be submitted for publication in early 1998.
Harvard University Press has just published Robert Jackall's
Wild Cowboys: Urban Marauders & the Forces of Order (1997).
Jackall, Class of 1956 Professor of Sociology and Social Thought
at Williams College, received an HFG grant in 1993 to study
homicide and drug dealing in New York's Washington Heights.
He followed police detectives and prosecutors as they independently
investigated separate incidents of street violence and murder,
discovered that a gang of Dominican youths, later known as
the Wild Cowboys, were causing the mayhem, and came together
to do justice.
The Cowboys were boyhood friends from Washington Heights,
the upper-Manhattan narcotics-trafficking hub of the eastern
seaboard. The gang operated a lucrative crack business in
the South Bronx but eventually turned on one another in a
deadly civil war that spread to three New York City boroughs.
Using a broken narrative that mirrors how the case "came
at" investigators, the book chronicles, from the streets
through the courtroom, the ways of knowing and acting of the
detectives and prosecutors charged with making sense of apparent
senselessness and bringing order to seeming chaos.
But Wild Cowboys also depicts a troubled social order marked
by irreconcilable differences, one fraught with self-doubt
and moral ambivalence, where the institutional logics of law
and bureaucracy often have perverse consequences. Jackall
sees a society in which the forces of order battle not only
criminals but elites seemingly aligned with forces of disorder:
community activists grab any pretext to further narrow causes;
intellectuals romanticize criminals; judges refuse to lock
up dangerous men; federal prosecutors relish nailing cops
more than criminals; and politicians pander to the worst of
our society behind rhetorics of social justice and moral probity.
Other recent or forthcoming HFG-supported books about
crimes of violence:
In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio, Philippe
Bourgois (1996, Cambridge University Press). Describes the
violent lives of crack dealers in Spanish Harlem and analyzes
the economic and subcultural forces that channel them into
the underground rather than legitimate economy.
Born Fi' Dead: A Journey Through the Jamaican Posse Underworld,
Laurie Gunst (1996, Henry Holt). Tells the story of the derivation
of America's Jamaican drug "posses" from the Kingston
gangs run by Jamaica's politicians.
Violence and Childhood in the Inner City, ed. Joan McCord
(1997, Cambridge University Press). A product of an HFG working
group, this volume treats the various influences in the life
of a child growing up in urban disadvantage that can promote
Ethnicity, Crime, and Immigration, ed. Michael Tonry (1997,
University of Chicago Press). A comparative examination of
racial and ethnic differences in criminal offending, victimization,
and discrimination in Western justice systems.
Bad Kids: The Transformation of the Juvenile Court, Barry
Feld (1998, Oxford University Press). Feld argues that the
juvenile court attempts to combine social welfare and penal
social control in one agency but does both badly. Bad Kids
proposes uncoupling the two by trying all offenders within
an integrated criminal court that recognizes youthfulness
as a formal mitigating factor in sentencing.
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