Book review: Punishment

Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterBook reviews
social conditions that underlie problematic use(p. 312). But who will listen? Maybe
a signed copy of this compellingly relevant book could be sent to Marsham street, it
might at least betoken a seasonally festive ideological thaw!
Rob Canton Routledge; 2022, 216 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-376-15230-7
Reviewed by: David Hayes
Rob Cantons book Punishment, a new addition to RoutledgesKey Ideas in
Criminology series, provides a wide-ranging accountof the idea of punishment, both
as an abstract idea and as a set of concrete social practices. Cantons argument is
built around three under-appreciated points about the nature of criminal punishment.
First, punishment is a reaction to a wrong. It is not only an extension of the Welfare
State, but a collective response to (what the Stateclaims is) a serious morallapse. As
a result, punishment is, secondly, inherently emotional, and these emotions condition
the meanings, aims and politics of penal institutions and processes. Thirdly, and as
noted above, punishmentis also an inherently human process it engages penal sub-
jects, practitioners suchas prison or probation staff, victims, third parties suchas sub-
jectsfamilies andfriends, and indeed, the societies that observethe act of punishing.
Canton structures his argument around f‌ive core elements of punishment: its def-
inition and broader meanings as a concept; a theorisation of punishment in terms of
socio-political power, hegemony and emotions; an overview of penal institutions
and practices as they operate in contemporary societies like England and Wales;
a review of the experiences of punishment both by penal subjects and by the crim-
inal justice professionals who implement their punishments; and f‌inally, a study of the
various ways by which punishment ends, formally or informally. Canton then con-
cludes on the relationship between punishment, the emotional meanings and signif-
icances that it carries, and the pursuit of the good society.
Cantons central argument is that, since punishment is inevitably bound up with
(conduct that is labelled as) wrongdoing, it inevitably invokes a range of negative
emotions, and especially anger, fear and disgust at that wrongdoing and thus, at
wrongdoers. Punishment can be said to have legitimacy only when it satisf‌ies those
emotions, and this helps to explain some of the tendencies in contemporary penal
policy, such as the over-focus on prison and preventive strategies in punishment
more generally. However, punishment cannot really satisfy these emotions.
Strategies such as retribution and rehabilitation only ever really focus on the offender
and fail to really speak to wider communities in a way that can meaningfully resolve
the disputes at the core of crimes. Accordingly, punishments are often perceived as
Book reviews 83

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