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Incapacitating the Habitual Criminal: The English Experience

NCJ Number
Michigan Law Review Volume: 78 Issue: 8 Dated: (August 1980) Pages: 1305-1389
L Radzinowicz; R Hood
Date Published
85 pages
This article traces 150 years of unsuccessful English efforts to identify, sentence, and reform habitual criminal offenders and examines policy questions common to habitual offender programs in both the United States and Great Britain.
It describes the tension between liberal tradition and the state's desire to incapacitate those who repeatedly threaten life and property. The British experience with habitual offender legislation, like that in the United States, encompasses numerous statutory formulations, commission reports, and statistical surveys. While there are major differences between approaches in the two countries, particularly in the degree of sentencing and prosecutorial discretion, the two systems share many problems. The failure to reduce recidivism in both countries has become a symbol of the larger failure of the penal system. Major problems confronting the drafting of habitual offender legislation include the definition of the term, defining proofs of habituality, and determining measures of proof and whether they have been met. Additional issues center on how habitual criminals should be sentenced. Proposals vary both in length of sentence and conditions of imprisonment, with some favoring indeterminate sentences, and others advocating a steady cumulation of sentences. Some suggest harsh confinement conditions, while others emphasize rehabilitation and return of the offender to the community. 369 footnotes (Publisher abstract modified)