Reassurance, Reinforcement, and Legitimacy

Matt Matravers

in The Oxford Handbook of Crime and Criminal Justice

Published in print September 2011 | ISBN: 9780195395082
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Reassurance, Reinforcement, and Legitimacy

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  • Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Penology and Punishment
  • Theories of Crime


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This article considers the point of systems of criminal justice; reviews Émile Durkheim's theory and its application to contemporary societies; reviews the evidence concerning the ways in which the criminal law can shape behavior other than by threat or imposition of punishment; examines the evidence for why people obey the law and the significance of the state's claim to legitimacy; and discusses the explosion of punishment in the United States and the United Kingdom, and analyses this as an expressive, Durkheimian attempt to shore up both the state's claim to legitimate sovereignty and the moral order of society. The article is informed by the thought that the most important effects of criminal justice do not result only from its involving the threat and imposition of punishment. These effects are intimately tied to the idea of legitimacy; and in evaluating them we cannot but help ask normative questions about the proper relation of the state to its citizens.

Keywords: criminal justice; Émile Durkheim; criminal law; punishment; moral order

Article.  8117 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Penology and Punishment ; Theories of Crime

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