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Criminal Law Reform: Current Issues in the United States

Overview Of Recent Developments In Criminal Law Reform, Definition Of Sanctions, Including Crimes And Punishments (substantive Criminal Law)

Since World War II, American penal law has undergone a fundamental transformation that has reached each of its three aspects: the definition of offenses and the consequences of their violation (substantive criminal law, or criminal law), the imposition of these norms (procedural criminal law, or criminal procedure) and their infliction (prison or correction law). The first phase of that transformation—peaking in the 1960s and 1970s—brought the legislative codification and the judicial constitutionalization of criminal law, procedural law, and prison law. The second phase, which is still ongoing, has seen the abandonment of the codificatory ideal by legislatures and the deconstitutionalization of penal law by the courts. The end result has been a dramatic expansion in the reach and severity of penal law.

This article focuses on the second phase and speculates on what may come after it. In general, an indefinite continuation of the current unprincipled punitiveness is as unlikely as a return to the days of comprehensive postwar reform. The challenge for penal law reform in the years ahead will be the development of an approach to penal law that steers a middle path between the abstract rationality of the early reforms and the ad hoc reflexiveness of the backlash to them.


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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law