The penal implications of austerity: Italian punishment in the wake of the Eurozone crisis

AuthorZelia A. Gallo
Published date01 March 2019
Date01 March 2019
Subject MatterArticles
European Journal of Criminology
2019, Vol. 16(2) 147 –169
© The Author(s) 2018
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1477370818769589
The penal implications
of austerity: Italian
punishment in the wake
of the Eurozone crisis
Zelia A. Gallo
King’s College London, UK
The article discusses the implications of the Eurozone crisis for Italian penality. It begins by
analysing the ‘politics of austerity’ – the economic reforms and new political mode entrenched
by the Eurozone crisis. It then reflects upon the penal implications of such changes, focusing
on the conceptual links between state–citizen relations, political institutional arrangements,
and punishment in Italy. The article argues that Italy will continue to display an alternation of
punitiveness and moderation. However, the meaning and contours of both punitiveness and
moderation are changing. Punitiveness is likely to be exacerbated as punishment is used to impose
cohesion on an ever more fragmented polity. Moderation, far from being a collective good and
‘public philosophy’, is likely to become a narrow, stratified and personalistic good. The article
urges us to consider whether austerity may be engendering similar dynamics across other EU
Austerity, Eurozone crisis, Italy, moderation, politics, punitiveness
Introduction: Punishment and crisis in Italy
The Eurozone crisis has precipitated both economic and political changes in Italy,
entrenching what can be called the ‘politics of austerity’. In this article I address the
implications of austerity for punishment. I do so by focusing on the connections between
the political economy, political institutions and punishment, and the penal incentives cre-
ated by the changes experienced since 2010. Political institutions, political economy and
Corresponding author:
Zelia A. Gallo, Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London, Strand, London, WC2R 2LS, UK.
769589EUC0010.1177/1477370818769589European Journal of CriminologyGallo
148 European Journal of Criminology 16(2)
punishment can all be seen as facets of state–citizen relations. My article is thus inher-
ently concerned with the changes wrought by austerity to state–citizen relations; how
such changes have been effected at the level of institutions and political economy; and
how they play out in the penal realm.
In terms of punishment I argue that, though Italy will continue to display an alterna-
tion between punitiveness and moderation (Gallo, 2015; Gonnella, 2013), as a conse-
quence of the Eurozone crisis the meaning and contours of punitiveness and moderation
are changing. Punitiveness is likely to be exacerbated, with state punishment used as a
means to impose cohesion on an ever more fragmented polity; moderation, far from
being a collective good and ‘public philosophy’ (Loader, 2010), is likely to become a
narrow, personalistic good.
Austerity politics have a European dimension, insofar as the changes experienced in
Italy both have been shaped by its membership of the European Union and have reflected
changes occurring at the European level (within European institutions or across EU poli-
ties). Economic and institutional differences on the ground will necessarily mediate aus-
terity politics, affecting how they do or do not take hold across different polities, and I
am not arguing that the Eurozone crisis spells political economic or penal convergence
in Europe. However I am arguing that, taking our cue from the Italian case study, we can
understand the penal incentives that austerity may be creating. Consequently, though this
article focuses on Italy, its lessons can be applied more broadly.
After a brief account of its theoretical ambitions, this article proceeds in three sec-
tions. The first section gives an outline of ‘pre-crisis’ Italy, its penality and its political
economy. The second section analyses the significant changes that have occurred since
2010: at the economic level, it appears that sites of resistance to ‘liberalization’ may have
broken down; at the political level, it appears that a new ‘mode’ of policy-making may
have taken hold, characterized by executive discretion, and used to push through auster-
ity policies. These changes raise two main questions: What penal incentives are created
by a political economy shaped by austerity? What penal incentives are created by a
political system shot through with executive discretion? The third section answers these
questions: it provides theoretical conclusions on Italian punishment in times of crisis,
focusing on the conceptual links between political institutional arrangements and pun-
ishment (Barker, 2009; Lacey 2008; Lacey and Soskice, 2015). It also engages with
materialist analyses of punishment, exploring their predictions for Italian penality in
times of austerity and explaining how political economic reforms may be engendering
the potential for penal escalation. My method borrows from Lacey (2008) and I therefore
offer a political institutionalist approach to the political economy of punishment: one that
treats the political economy as rooted in particular institutions, which produce diver-
gence on the basis of comparative advantage (Hall and Soskice, 2001).
My article ultimately reinforces the claims made by the comparative political econ-
omy of punishment that penal escalation is not inevitable but is anchored to particular
institutional configurations and, by implication, their reform. However, I place greater
emphasis than Lacey does on political variables (veto-points, electoral systems, sites of
negotiation). This reflects the specificity of the Italian context: a political economy that
lacks obvious systemic coherence and a penality more visibly tied to politics (Gallo,
2015). The third section also explores political changes in Italy, analysing how these

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