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Deterrence - Deterrence And Public Sentiment

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Most serious students of crime and criminal justice probably would agree that the fluctuations in crime rates have more to do with social and economic changes than with changes in criminal law. However, the limited role of criminal justice has not become common knowledge. It seems that politicians as well as the general public tend to overestimate the deterrent effect of criminal law on crime rates. Moreover, in the political struggle more votes are won by promising to be tough on crime than by taking a moderate attitude. A complicating factor is that the invocation of deterrence may be a cloak for retributive feelings. This is most obvious with regard to the death penalty. In this field public sentiment in the United States contrasts sharply with that of the rest of the Western world.

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