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4 - Punishment in American History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

Terance D. Miethe
Affiliation:
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Hong Lu
Affiliation:
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
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Summary

An interesting case study for a comparative historical analysis of punishment is the United States. As a former British colony before winning its independence at the end of the eighteenth century, the United States' legal tradition is rooted in the English common law. These common law principles have now been largely codified in a bifurcated system of federal and state statutes. Through its colonial and republic periods, the United States has used various types of punishment to maintain social order, eliminate threats to this order, and to implement major social changes. It is a relatively distinct industrialized society in the modern world, however, due to its high rates of incapacitative sanctions and continued use of the death penalty. These general similarities and differences with other countries make the United States an ideal case study for a comparative historical analysis of punishment.

Our examination of economic, incapacitative, and corporal punishment in the United States begins with a general overview of its demographic and structural features. This general profile is then followed by a more detailed historical account of major societal changes and landmark events that influenced the context-specific nature, prevalence, and justifications for different types of sanctions. This chapter concludes with a brief comparative analysis of historical practices in the United States with England and other Western European countries.

OVERVIEW OF STRUCTURAL FEATURES

The United States of America was formed in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War between England and its American colonists in the late eighteenth century.

Type
Chapter
Information
Punishment
A Comparative Historical Perspective
, pp. 82 - 114
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2004

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References

William J. Bowers. 1984. Legal Homicide: Death as Punishment in America, 1864–1982. Boston: Northeastern University Press
W. Fitzhugh Brundage. 1997. Under Sentence of Death: Lynchings in the South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press
Kai Erickson. 1966. Wayward Puritans. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press
Roger Lane. 1997. Murder in America: A History. Columbus: Ohio State University Press
Eric H. Monkkonen. 1991. Crime and Justice in American History: Historical Articles on the Origins and Evolution of American Criminal Justice. The Colonies and Early Republic. Volumes 1 and 2. London: Meckler
Frank Tannenbaum. 1938. Crime and the Community. Boston: Ginn and Company

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