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Beyond the ‘Neo-liberal Penality Thesis’? Punitive Turn and Political Change in South America

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Abstract

In recent years it has emerged in the Global North a narrative about the punitive turn in the penal field that explains its development in certain national scenarios as United States and England and Wales as a result of the spread of neo-liberalism as a political project over the past four decades. This narrative has been extended to think about the emergence of evident trends toward the increase of punitiveness present in penal policies in other contexts and regions. This narrative is now under heavy criticism from various points of view, discussing their applicability to the scenarios of the Global North. This chapter intends to add other perspectives to this discussion using evidence arising from a comparative exploration of South America. In this sense, the chapter aims more generally to contribute to a dialogue between criminological productions generated in the Global North and South, in an opposite direction to the one that has traditionally been dominant in this field of knowledge.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Where possible, I have used the official data that the several governmental authorities report to the International Center for Prison Studies (ICPS) for the development of the World Prison Brief. However, it is necessary to mention that in some cases these data did not coincide with the data that the same governmental authorities provided in different instances for the same time period and that were found in other works. I will make specific notes of these occasions in the footnotes. It especially occurred frequently for the 1990s. When this source was not available, I turned to others that were available, both on a regional as a national level which will specifically be indicated.

  2. 2.

    I here used the data from National Directorate for Penitentiary Services cited by Grajales and Hernández (2017).

  3. 3.

    In this year, the incarceration rate—according to the ICPS—was 58/100,000 in Norway, 60/100,000 in Sweden, 70/100,000 in Finland and 70/100,000 in Denmark.

  4. 4.

    Here I have used the official data—the National Social Rehabilitation Service—as reported by Paladines (2017).

  5. 5.

    Here I have used the official data as reported by Carranza (2012) and Dammert and Zuñiga (2008).

  6. 6.

    At the same time, I must recognize the difficulties that the comparisons around this indicator have in the region. In the first place, the state agencies that generate the information are often also those that are responsible for the governance of penal institutions, and there is not usually a reliability monitoring mechanism in place. Secondly, the criteria to define the prison population and therefore calculate the incarceration rate are not identical in each country. In some cases, people who are enjoying prison benefits such as temporary releases, daytime imprisonment or night-time imprisonment are included but not in others. Additionally, in some countries in the region, there are many people that are deprived of their freedom in institutional settings that are not managed by correctional agencies but rather by the police forces—even when they are processed or convicted—such as in Brazil or Argentina. In some cases, these numbers are included in the official calculation of the incarceration rate but not in other cases (Dammert et al. 2010).

  7. 7.

    Namely, Finland (57 for 2017), Sweden (53 for 2016), Denmark (59 for 2016) and Norway (74 for 2016).

  8. 8.

    A similar trend can be observed in a large part of the English-speaking countries. According to the ICPS, the incarceration rate between 1990 and 2017 increased by 61 percent in England and Wales and by 48 percent in Scotland, by 81 percent in New Zealand and 98 percent in Australia between 1990 and 2016 and by 46 percent in the United States between 1990 and 2015, while in Canada it decreased by 6 percent between 1990 and 2014. However, the worst growth rate in this group of countries during this period (Australia) is less than three times the worst growth rate in South America (Brazil).

  9. 9.

    Defining neo-liberalism as a governmental rationality implies considering it as a way of thinking how, why, to whom and what for to govern. It is a definition inspired by the works of Michel Foucault in this respect (Foucault 1981, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2007), retaken and theorized in governmentality literature (Rose and Miller 1990, 1992; Gordon 1991; Rose 1999; Dean 1999; O’Malley 1999, 2006). This way of considering neo-liberalism is, from my point of view, more empirically sensitive to the variations found in precise—past and present—contexts than the elaborations about it by Wacquant that tend to give to what is defined as a ‘transnational political project’ an exaggerated uniformity and consistency over time and space. In this direction, this governmental rationality is considered in perpetual mutation, and there are many possibilities for ambivalence and contradiction. Hence it is necessary to recognize its constant plurality. And, at the same time, their multiple possibilities of hybridization—for example, with neoconservatism—become especially evident. Besides, this greater empirical sensitivity is achieved without losing critical attitude in relation to what is identified as neo-liberal.

  10. 10.

    Unfortunately, there is no official information on incarceration rates throughout the country for the period 1983–1991.

  11. 11.

    During these years, there were the first episodes of politicization of crime and punishment since the beginning of the transition to democracy, promoted by key Menemist political agents, although they were not strong neither persistent over time. There was also an important process of replacement of penal agents—particularly in the federal and national criminal justice system—through the appointment of judges and prosecutors from conservative sectors promoted by Menemism that demonstrate another connection between this type of governmental alliance and the increase of punitiveness in this moment—beyond the previously indicated legal reform that increased penal severity in relation to illegal drugs offenses that strongly impacted at the federal level (Sozzo 2011b: 34–35, 2016c: 306–307).

  12. 12.

    There have been legal changes that increase punitiveness in the years 2008, 2012 and 2013 that were actively supported by Kirchnerism but of a particular type, since they were built in relation to demands of sectors of the women movement with respect to trafficking in persons, sexual offenses and femicide. Their practical impact in terms of the evolution of punitiveness was relatively moderate.

  13. 13.

    At the same time, this was the presidential candidate of this political alliance in the general elections of 2015—which affected the characteristics of Kirchnerist discourse on crime and punishment during it—in which he was finally defeated.

  14. 14.

    President Chávez won in the general elections of October 2012 by a margin of 10.7 percent of the votes. In the new presidential elections in April 2013, Maduro was elected by a much smaller margin of 1.5 percent of the votes. This political weakening was ratified in the legislative elections of December 2015 that caused that for the first time since the end of the 1990s the Chavist alliance lost the absolute majority in the National Assembly. From then on, a deep political crisis was triggered by the fact that the National Assembly approves the holding of a referendum on the revocation of the mandate of President Maduro.

  15. 15.

    This shift should also imply, from my perspective, to organize the analysis not only around the question ‘why’ but also to place the question ‘how’ in an equally important place in relation to the research on current penal mutations (Goodman et al. 2014: 318; Sozzo 2017c).

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Sozzo, M. (2018). Beyond the ‘Neo-liberal Penality Thesis’? Punitive Turn and Political Change in South America. In: Carrington, K., Hogg, R., Scott, J., Sozzo, M. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Criminology and the Global South. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-65021-0_32

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