Penal Policy Determinants in the United States

Main Points

Understanding the factors that lead to changes in crime dynamics is rather challenging. In their study, Lacey, Soskice, and Hope (2018) show that there has been no consistency in crime trends in the United States over the past few decades. However, the choices of legislation and policy seem to shape the specified trends to a certain degree.

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The authors also point out that the trends in crime in the U.S. may often mislead general audiences to make wrong conclusions. For example, race is often mistakenly considered one of the critical determinants of crime (Lacey et al., 2018). While the race remains one of the factors affecting the development of penal policy, it has not been proven to increase crime rates.

Finally, the research results point to the fact that cross-cultural relationships define and change to the existing penal policy. Racial disparities affect the choices made by state authorities and, thus, define the alterations to the existing regulations. Consequently, positive change within the penal system is only possible once public redress occurs.

Major Studies

Lacey et al. (2018) reference a range of sources to support their argument. One of them is “Crime and Justice” by M. Torny, which provides an overview of the key problems within the contemporary justice system. Specifically, Torny outlines that the existing penal policy is aimed at punishing rather than rehabilitating (as cited in Lacey et al., 2018).

Another important research that Lacey et al. (2018) reference represents sharp criticism of the existing U.S. penal system and justice system, in general. Stuntz discloses the problems of the current framework for managing criminal activities within the state, including socioeconomic factors affecting their development (as cited in Lacey et al., 2018).

Finally, the paper by Wacquant deserves mentioning as an important piece of evidence that the authors use (as cited in Lacey et al., 2018). Particularly, the authors explain the impact that economic systems have on the changes in crime levels using Wacquant’s model.

Key Concepts

The research by Lacey et al. (2018) also introduces several new concepts into criminal justice by incorporating sociocultural factors into it. For example, capitalism is referred to as a system of economic relationships based on private ownership theories. These relationships shape the development of the existing penal policies and the justice system in general (Lacey et al., 2018).

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The phenomenon of the first-past-the-post system, which is an integral part of the political processes within the U.S. environment, is also rendered as one of the factors that shape current penal principles. According to the authors’ explanation, the specified factor implies a shift in voters’ priorities and contributes to the creation of volatile legal standards (Lacey et al., 2018).

Proposed Actions

The research suggests several methods of managing the problems within the existing legal system. Particularly, Lacey et al. (2018) propose incorporating economic factors into the analysis of crime trends and identifying key problems. The identified strategy will help create a homogenous approach toward policymaking.

Also, the research outcomes imply that a shift in perspective has to occur to improve the current situation. The criminal justice system has to be driven by the need to help people reform instead of punishing them. The resulting drop in crimes will lead to creating a new society with higher ethical values and low crime rates.


Lacey, N., Soskice, D., & Hope, D. (2018). Understanding the determinants of penal policy: Crime, culture, and comparative political economy. Annual Review of Criminology, 1, 195-217.

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