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Copyright (c) 2007 The University of Chicago
Crime and Justice

ARTICLE: Comparative Penology in Perspective


36 Crime & Just. 49


Jean-Paul Brodeur


Although the idea of doing comparative research on crime and punishment is not novel, 1 such research has been conducted in a more systematic fashion only since the last decades of the twentieth century. International bodies such as the United Nations or the Council of Europe have sponsored comparative research in criminology and penology (e.g., Dunkel and Snacken 2000; Shaw, van Dijk, and Rhomberg 2003; Walmsley 2003a) and continue to do so. Government research units also increasingly sponsor comparative research, the British Home Office and the Dutch Ministry of Justice being particularly active (e.g., van Dijk, Mayhew, and Killias 1990; van Kesteren, Mayhew, and Nieuwbeerta 2000; Walmsley 2003b). There are also collections of individual essays (Tonry 2001a; Tonry and Frase 2001; Tata and Hutton 2002) and a growing number of journal articles (Young and Brown 1993; Snacken, Beyens, and Tubex 1995; Tonry 2001b; von Hofer 2003).

Comparative research consists for now mainly in the juxtaposition of individual case studies that describe the penal situation in one country rather than in an explicit cross-examination of what these studies tell us is similar or different (Tonry 2001b, p. 531). In order to spell out convergent trends and discrepancies, we have to develop common ways of measuring things. Yet, we do not fully realize the magnitude of this problem. The problem is not only that countries do not use standardized procedures of measurement, but that they do not measure the same things and, for historical and political reasons, object to taking into account ...
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