Crime and Punishment

Dalrymple has a new essay for the New English Review, and it’s a very entertaining read on the subject of crime. After hosting at his house in France two Englishmen of opposite views on the subject, he recounts the highlights of their debate and concludes with a comparison between the American and European approaches to punishment:

I am not myself an idolater of the United States. I do not believe that all that is American is best. It is neither a model to be imitated in all things, nor a model at all costs to be avoided. Its manifest failings are exceeded by its manifest virtues: but it requires discrimination to decide what is worthy of emulation and what of avoidance. Generally speaking, we in Europe get things exactly the wrong way round.

For me, the high imprisonment rate in the United States is a sign of social health, not of social disease. Of course, I do not approve of any miscarriages of justice or of incidents of brutality that occur in American prisons: but when I compare the confidence and resolution with which America faces the problem of criminality with the vacillation in most of Europe (some countries excepted), I cannot help but be struck by the difference, which is all to our disadvantage. The American system, for all its faults, is prepared to draw a line; European systems, on the whole, are not. But my view is exactly the opposite of what most Europeans, or at any rate educated Europeans, and no doubt many Americans, think.

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