SP476      Half Unit
Punishment and Penal Policy

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Leonidas Cheliotis OLD 2.51


This course is available on the MSc in Criminal Justice Policy, MSc in International Social and Public Policy, MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Development), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (LSE and Fudan), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Migration), MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Non-Governmental Organisations) and MSc in International Social and Public Policy (Research). This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

All Social Policy Courses are ‘Controlled Access’. Please see the link below for further details on the allocation process.




Course content

This course runs as a half-unit option, and explores punishment and penal policy from a range of comparative perspectives. Focusing on Anglophone jurisdictions and the rest of the world in equal measure, the course considers in depth a wide variety of historical and international comparative studies of punishment and penal policy, both from the field of criminology and beyond. In so doing, the course critically examines theoretical frameworks and empirical research on such issues as:

  • the forms state punishment has assumed over time and in different national and regional contexts;
  • the array and relative significance of the reasons why punishment and penal policy may develop, qualitatively as well as quantitatively, in particular ways at given historical junctures and in different jurisdictions;
  • the relationship between political systems and punishment, with particular reference to processes of democratisation;
  • the links between penal policy and different forms of economic organisation, from preindustrial capitalism to welfare capitalism and neoliberalism; and
  • the role of punishment in society as explained through psychosocial theories and research

Thanks to its substantive foci and broad comparative approach, the course enhances provision in the School in the field of penology (e.g., the course ‘Explaining Punishment: Philosophy, Political Economy, Sociology’ (LL4CL), taught by Professors Lacey and Ramsay in the Law Department).

Indicative course content:

  1. The Contours of State Punishment
  2. Continuity and Change in Punishment and Penal Policy: Historical Comparative Perspectives
  3. Convergences and Contrasts in Punishment and Penal Policy: International Comparative Perspectives
  4. Political Systems and Punishment, Part I: Democracy
  5. Political Systems and Punishment, Part II: Democratisation
  6. Reading Week
  7. The Political Economy of Punishment: Marxist and Neo-Marxist Perspectives from the Global North and the Global South
  8. Punishment, Politics and the Economy: Institutional Perspectives from around the World
  9. The Cultural Uses of Punishment
  10. The Emotional Lives of Punishment
  11. Cultural Representations of Punishment


15 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the LT.

Students will be required to submit a 1,500-word essay on one of the topics addressed in the course . Formative coursework will be designed to feed into later summative assessments, giving students an opportunity to develop critical thinking and presentational skills.

Indicative reading

  • Alexander, M. (2010) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York and London: The New Press.
  • Brown, M. (2009) The Culture of Punishment: Prison, Society, and Spectacle. New York and London: New York University Press.
  • Dumm, T. L. (1987) Democracy and Punishment: Disciplinary Origins of the United States. Madison, WI: The University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Garland, D. (1985) Punishment and Welfare: A History of Penal Strategies. Aldershot, UK: Gower.
  • Gottschalk, M. (2014) Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
  • Karstedt, S. (ed.) (2009) Legal Institutions and Collective Memories. Oxford: Hart.
  • Lacey, N. (2008) The Prisoners’ Dilemma: Political Economy and Punishment in Contemporary Democracies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • McBride, K. (2007) Punishment and Political Order. Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
  • Reiner, R. (2007) Law and Order: An Honest Citizen’s Guide to Crime and Control. Cambridge: Polity.
  • Salvatore, R. D., Aguirre, C. and G. M. Joseph (eds) (2001) Crime and Punishment in Latin America: Law and Society since Colonial Times. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.


Essay (100%, 3000 words).

A 3000 essay on one of the substantive topics covered and a presentation to demonstrate critical appreciation of a specific theoretical argument or empirical study.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2019/20: 25

Average class size 2019/20: 13

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication