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Prison Politics and Criminal Law - An Essay

NCJ Number
Prison Journal Volume: 64 Issue: 2 Dated: (Fall-Winter 1984) Pages: 76-87
S M Talarico
Date Published
12 pages
The inadequacies of substantive criminal law merit more attention than postconviction institutions, and the public should fault State legislatures for their contributions to and responsibility for the limitations of criminal law.
Criminal law and the agencies charged with its administration are part and parcel of the political process. Public concerns about crime and the justice system are legitimate. However, the public's basic criticism that postconviction institutions are too lenient is unfair. Courts, corrections, and parole have few alternatives to decisions that appear lenient. When looking to assign blame for the current state of criminal justice, legislatures must be found guilty of particular sins of omission. By failing to articulate a reasonable purpose for criminal law, by setting vague and sometimes contradictory penalties defining a wide array of criminal prohibitions, and by tinkering with criminal codes in an effort to grandstand, State legislatures have given postconviction institutions an impossible mandate and set them up for virtual failure and unfair criticism. In the process, the legislature also sends mixed signals to actual and potential offenders, signals that help to dilute the viability of criminal law. Tables and a list of nine references are provided.