Incarceration Nation: How the United States Became the Most Punitive Democracy in the World Peter K. Enns. New York: Cambridge University Press (2016) 192pp. £24.99pb ISBN 978‐1‐107‐13288‐7, 178‐1‐316‐50061‐3

Published date01 June 2017
Date01 June 2017
AuthorHannah L. Walker
The Howard Journal Vol56 No 2. June 2017 DOI: 10.1111/hojo.12204
ISSN 2059-1098, pp. 268–277
Book Reviews
Dangerous Politics: Risk, Vulnerability, and Penal Policy (Clarendon Studies in Criminol-
ogy) H. Annison. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2015) 288pp. £65.00hb ISBN
This book is a significant addition to the growing literature on the formation of penal pol-
icy in contemporary societies, combining valuable empirical research with sophisticated
theoretical and critical analysis. Its concrete core is the rise and fall of the imprisonment
for public protection (IPP) sentence. Created by the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, the IPP
always attracted much controversy and was abolished by the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing
and Punishment of Offenders Act.
Dangerous Politics provides a definitive analysis of this process. It constructs a fas-
cinating historical narrative based partly on documentary materials, but drawing most
fruitfully on rich empirical data from over 60 qualitative interviews with key participants,
policy makers, practitioners, and pressure groups.
IPPs were intended to keep dangerous violent and sexual offenders in custody as
long as they were deemed a risk to the public. Someone convicted of a specified violent
or sexual offence not serious enough to get a life sentence could receive an IPP. After
they had served their ‘tariff’ they would have to satisfy the Parole Board that they no
longer posed a risk before they could be released. As the book shows, this was the
most recent effort to solve a perennial conundrum facing penal systems, raising the
most acute ethical and practical issues, turning on the tension between just deserts and
utilitarian crime reduction justifications of punishment. How should the system cope
with offenders who are deemed, on whatever basis, to be dangerous even after serving a
sentence proportionate to the gravity of their immediate offence? The IPP was the latest
attempt to achieve the Holy Grail of balancing justice and safety.
Harry Annison skilfully documents why the New Labour government in 2003 be-
lieved the IPP was both necessary and defensible, and how it became apparent that this
confidence was as hubristic as the many earlier bids to tackle the dangerous offenders’
issue. Already by 2008 the Labour government’s Criminal Justice and Immigration Act
amended the IPP regime. When the Coalition government was formed in 2010 pressure
for change mounted, and eventually in 2012 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment
of Offenders Act abolished the IPP. This did not apply retrospectively, so IPP prisoners
were not released, and their plight remains controversial. There were still around 4,000
prisoners serving IPP sentences in late 2016.
The advent of the IPP is analysed by Annison in terms of a network of complex
cultural and institutional changes in the politics of law and order more widely. It was
a quintessential example of New Labour’s concern to counter the electoral albatross
round its neck of being successfully depicted in the late 1970s and 1980s by Conservative
politicians and mass media as ‘soft on crime’. In line with the celebrated soundbite that
paid such dividends to Tony Blair, the IPP was readily represented as ‘tough on crime,
tough on the causes of crime’. As with much else in New Labour criminal justice it
ultimately boiled down to being tough on convicted criminals rather than crime, and
tackled causes at best at a superficial level.
2017 The Howard League and John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK

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