SP476      Half Unit
Punishment and Penal Policy

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Leonidas Cheliotis


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 (Education), 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).


All teaching will be in accordance with the LSE Academic Code (https://info.lse.ac.uk/current-students/lse-academic-code) which specifies a "minimum of two hours taught contact time per week when the course is running in the Autumn Term (AT) and/or Winter Term (WT)". Social Policy courses are predominantly taught through a combination of in-person Lectures and In person classes/seminars. Further information will be provided by the Course Convenor in the first lecture of the course.

The course will be delivered in WT.

Formative coursework

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

Students will be required to submit a 1,500-word essay on one of the topics addressed in the course.

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%).

An essay on one of the substantive topics covered in the course, from a defined list of questions.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 25.8
Merit 61.8
Pass 11.2
Fail 1.1

Key facts

Department: Social Policy

Total students 2022/23: 36

Average class size 2022/23: 18

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

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