Punishment is one of the most interfering forms of state power in the lives and freedoms of citizens. In democracies, state power is supposed to be limited by rational laws and checks and balances. However, punishment also has an important symbolic and emotional function in society. Comparative studies of punishment illustrate large variations in punitiveness, both quantitatively and qualitatively, which are independent from crime rates. This paper looks into the mechanisms and values behind penal moderation and discusses the potential role of a “public criminology” in times of increased populism.
Sonja Snacken is Professor of Criminology, Penology and Sociology of Law at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium. Her research focuses on (comparative) penality and different forms of (extreme) institutional dependency. She has been involved in over 40 (inter)national research projects, with a special emphasis on the integration of an empirical social scientist and human rights approach. She was Research Fellow at the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice, New York University School of Law (2010-2011) and Collaborateur-membre of the Centre International de Criminologie Comparée, Université de Montréal. She was awarded the Belgian Francqui Chair at the Université Catholique de Louvain (2008-2009), the Ernest-John Solvay Prize for Scientific Excellence in the Human and Social Sciences by the National Science Foundation (FWO, 2010) and the 2015 European Criminology Award by the European Society of Criminology.