Harsh Punishment or Alternatives: Which is the Better Crime-prevention?

Author:Helmut Kury

The classical reaction to crime is punishment, then, if it does not have the effect we are looking for, still harsher sanctions. For the most part, state powers concentrate on the offender and his or her punishment, while the victim is 'used’ as a witness in court proceedings. Empirical criminological research in recent decades has shown more and more that 'just punish’ is not the best solution... (see full summary)

Helmut Kury
Professor emeritus
University of Freiburg
Harsh Punishment
or Alternatives: Which is the
Better Crime-prevention?
1. Introduction
Empirical studies over the past few decades have repeatedly shown that traditional solutions to crime prob-
lems – i.e., strict punishments – do not substantially reduce the con icts caused by crime. Against this
background, historical practices such as mediation and restorative justice have re-emerged*1. R. London
has characterised the shift thus: ‘Restorative justice as both a philosophy and an implementation strategy
developed from the convergence of several trends in criminal justice: the loss of con dence in rehabilitation
and deterrence theory, the rediscovery of the victim as a necessary party, and the rise of interest in commu-
nity-based justice.’*2 Concen trating on harsh punishment of o enders while ignoring the background for the
criminal behaviour and the needs of victims of crimes, using them only as witnesses during court proceedings,
is less e ective in crime prevention than ‘alternatives’ are.*3 Advocates of mediation and restitution in the
aftermath of crime often refer to historical examples.*4 Intensive, sweeping regulation of restitution in most
cultural regions seems to be a generally identi able phenomenon. As S. Sharpe points out, ‘[r]eparation has
been a vehicle for justice throughout human history’.*5
Just a few years ago, John Braithwaite, one of the fathers of contemporary restorative justice, wrote: ‘Of
all the great institutions passed down to western civilization by the Enlightenment, none has been a greater
See, for example, K.J. Hopt, F. Ste ek (eds). Mediation. Rechtstatsachen, Rechtsvergleich, Regelungen. Tübingen, Germany:
Mohr Siebeck ; G. Johnstone, D.W. Van Ness. Handbook of Restorative Justice. Cullompton: Willan ; E. Weitekamp,
H.-J. Kerner. Restorative Justice: Theoretical Foundations. Cullompton; Portland, Oregon: Willan ; DOI: https://doi.
org/./; F. Dünkel et al. (eds). Restorative Justice and Mediation in Penal Matters: A Stock-taking of
Legal Issues, Implementation Strategies and Outcomes in  European Countries ( volumes). Mönchengladbach, Germany:
Forum-Verlag Godesberg ; H. Kury, A. Kuhlmann. Mediation in Germany and Other Western Countries. Forthcoming
R. London. Crime, Punishment, and Restorative Justice: From the Margins to the Mainstream. London; Boulder, Colorado:
First Forum Press , p. .
H. Kury. Zur (Nicht-)Wirkung von Sanktionen – Ergebnisse internationaler empirischer Untersuchungen. – Soziale
Probleme  (), pp. ; H. Kury, A. Scherr (eds). Zur (Nicht-)Wirkung von Sanktionen. Immer härtere Strafen –
immer weniger Kriminalität? Centaurus Verlag .
L. Frühauf. Wiedergutmachung zwischen Täter und Opfer. Eine neue Alternative in der strafrechtlichen Sanktionspraxis.
Gelsenkirchen, Germany: Verlag Dr. Mannhold , p. .
S. Sharpe. The idea of reparation. – G. Johnstone, D.W. Van Ness (eds). Handbook of Restorative Justice. Cullompton:
Willan , pp.  (see p.  in particular).

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