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Examining the relationship between political systems and state punitiveness

Greek_riot_police_1Democratic states are not necessarily less punitive than their non-democratic counterparts, according to a new LSE study.

Leonidas Cheliotis, Assistant Professor in Criminology at LSE’s Department of Social Policy , and Sappho Xenakis, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Birkbeck School of Law, University of London, examined the relationship between political systems and punishment by charting the trajectory of punitive state policies and practices in Greece before, during and after its military dictatorship of 1967-74.

Their findings disprove the thesis, popularly propounded in Greece, that the legacy of the country’s military dictatorship has been decade after decade of excessive leniency in the field of law and order. Instead, the study  identifies a striking set of continuities and recurring motifs in punitive state policies and practices before, during and after the dictatorship: from legal provisions that have been used to subvert civil rights of protest, assembly, expression and political conviction, to excessive police violence and custodial punishment against out-groups, to mutually convenient relations between the state and far-right groups engaging in illicit violence, to the intimidatory surveillance of alleged subversives.

More generally, the evidence produced by Dr Cheliotis and Dr Xenakis challenges the views that prior experience of authoritarianism is protective against authoritarianism in the future, and that liberalisation in the field of criminal justice follows from the commitment provided to civil liberties after the establishment of democracy. They found that the legacy of authoritarianism may well be more authoritarianism, although this does not preclude new targets for state punitiveness under the emergent regime. 

Drawing the implications of these findings for the broader relationship between political systems and punishment, Cheliotis and Xenakis conclude that the standard typological division of political systems into democracies and non-democracies is a problematic framework for exploring state punitiveness.

Punishment and Political Systems: State Punitiveness in Post-Dictatorial Greece is published in a special issue of the leading international peer-reviewed journal Punishment & Society , which focuses on the relationship between democratisation processes and punishment in a variety of countries around the world, including Greece, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Serbia, South Africa, and Argentina.

Dr Cheliotis, who co-edited the special issue, said: “The relationship between democracy and punishment has received increasing attention in criminology over recent years, yet processes of democratisation have not been sufficiently explored in this regard. At the same time, the field of transition studies, whose primary aim is to assess and account for the degree to which states successfully transition from authoritarian to democratic government, has largely ignored issues of penal policy and practice. By dissecting the configurations of penal dynamics in post-authoritarian contexts, we may thus be able to provide a deeper and more reliable understanding not only of the relationship between democracy or other political systems and punishment, but also of the quality of democratic transition as such.”

Notes

Dr Cheliotis is an Assistant Professor in Criminology at LSE’s Department of Social Policy. He has published widely in the sociology of punishment, and he is currently working on a book on the political economy of migrants’ criminalisation in Greece. Further information about Dr Cheliotis can be found at: www.lcheliotis.net

 Dr Xenakis is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Birkbeck School of Law, University of London. Her research focuses on the political economy of crime and punishment, with particular reference to corruption, organised crime and political violence. Further information about Dr Xenakis can be found at: http://www.bbk.ac.uk/law/our-staff/ft-academic/sappho-xenakis

 

 

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