In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The New Penology

  • Introduction

Criminology The New Penology
Johann Koehler, Gil Rothschild-Elyassi, Jonathan Simon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0245


Once the rehabilitative ideal fell into disrepute in the middle of the 1970s, penal appetites turned toward incapacitation, deterrence, and retribution as the principal justifying rationales for punishment. Within twenty years, a lively penal debate had given way to a new consensus behind harsh punishment rationalized through a messy mix of the three. Alongside this new penal sensibility emerged a penal state apparatus many have come to term “mass incarceration,” and with it, a new set of organizing principles for criminal law administration. Gone was an “Old Penology” that rested firstly on the individualization of penal justice, and secondly—although inconsistently so—on a jurisprudential commitment to notions of guilt and responsibility. Gone, too, was an administrative concern with the diagnosis and treatment of deviance and antisociality. In its place, scholars noted, was a “New Penology” predicated on drastically different principles. The New Penology was primarily concerned with the correct identification, classification, and management of groups categorized according to perceived dangerousness. And the new logic guiding the administration of punishment was the efficient regulation of risky populations. The emergence of this penological style, which draws heavily on statistical and managerial techniques, is synonymous with the penal field’s “Actuarial Turn.” It is closely related to several broader phenomena: one is the rise of “evidence-based” penal reform, which promises objectivity and efficiency in an age that clamors for smart solutions that deliver greater bang for the buck; another such phenomenon is the rise of “New Managerialism,” whose proponents advocate the increasing use of statistical and managerial techniques for their capacity to advance predictability, consistency, reliability, transparency, and effectiveness in reform efforts. Critics worry that the Actuarial Turn and its associated phenomena will widen the criminal justice net, erode principles of proportionality, threaten the equal distribution of justice, and shift the focus of criminal justice from retrospective punishment to prospective control. The New Penology critique draws on perspectives from socio-legal studies, jurisprudence, and critical theory to expose how actuarial approaches to thinking about penal administration have transformed concepts of risk and danger in criminal justice policy.

Actuarialism’s Rise

Actuarialism’s roots in criminal justice administration extend to some of the earliest texts in modern criminology. Focusing primarily on US developments as an example of a broader, global trend in penal law administration, this section focuses on the emergence of actuarial criminological knowledge and its gradual institutionalization in practice and in law. Throughout this process, the clinical model for penal decision-making was destabilized and scientific statistical methods became increasingly entrenched.

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