Michael Tonry is McKnight Presidential Professor of Criminal Law and Policy and director, Institute on Crime and Public Policy, University of Minnesota; senior fellow in the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, Free University Amsterdam; and a Scientific Member of the Max Planck Institute on Comparative and International Criminal Law, Freiburg, Germany. Previously he was professor of law and public policy and director of the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University, and a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. He has since 2001 been a visiting professor of law and criminology at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. His books include Crime and Justice in America, 1975-2025 (Chicago 2013), Prosecutors and Politics—A Comparative Perspective (Chicago 2012), Punishing Race (OUP 2011), Thinking about Crime (OUP 2004), and Punishment and Politics—Evidence and Emulation in the Making of English Penal Policy (Willan 2004). He was from 1990 to 1999 editor of Overcrowded Times—Solving the Prison Problem and from 2000 to 2010 editor of Criminology in Europe. He founded and edits Crime and Justice - A Review of Research and two Oxford University Press book series: Studies in Crime and Public Policy, and Oxford Handbooks on Criminology and Criminal Justice.
What Can Courts and Prisons Do to Reduce Violent Crime?
Courts and prisons can do precious little to reduce violent crime, although they can exacerbate it. How courts and prisons deal with violent crime is not unimportant, of course, but that is a product of the same social, economic, and political conditions that determine levels of crime and violence in a society. Countries in which courts are apolitical institutions that consistently impose punishments that are fair, proportionate, and humane tend to have relatively low levels of violence. Both legal cultures and social conditions associated with low rates of violence are products of historical and cultural forces that shape a country. Countries with strong human rights values, high levels of citizen trust in the state and one another, low levels of income inequality, and strong social welfare systems tend to have both low levels of violence and humane and principled legal cultures. The overwhelming implication is that serious efforts at violence prevention, though they should and will embody strenuous targeted efforts to reduce violence per se, must be equally or more focused on building the social and economic conditions that make violence and other predatory crime less common. As Scandinavian scholars and officials often say, the best crime policy is a good social policy.