Bryce Elling Peterson and Daniel S. Lawrence
Body-worn cameras (BWCs) are small devices that police officers can affix to their person—in a head-, shoulder-, or chest-mounted position—that can audio and video record their interactions with community members. BWCs have received strong support from the public and, in recent years, widespread buy-in from police leadership and officers because of their ability to improve accountability and transparency and enhance the collection of evidence. Implementation guidelines recommend that officers activate their BWCs during each officer–citizen interaction and inform the people they encounter that they are being recorded. Early research on this technology found that officers equipped with body cameras were significantly less likely to engage in force and receive citizen complaints. However, more recent studies with larger samples have had mixed findings about the impact of body cameras on use of force, citizen complaints, and other police activities and behaviors.
Numerous legal and ethical considerations are associated with BWCs, including their implications for privacy concerns and public disclosure. However, police officials, policymakers, civil rights groups, and the public must continue to weigh these privacy concerns against the potential for BWCs to enhance police accountability and transparency. Future scholarship should focus on the degree to which BWCs can improve police–community relations and yield valuable evidence for both criminal cases and internal investigations.
The dawn of the 21st century marked a turning point in the history of the American death penalty. Politically, the death penalty seemed vulnerable. A wave of abolitionism not seen since the Progressive Era took hold in the 2000s, as six states abandoned the death penalty, and governors in five others instituted moratoria, promising to use their executive power to stay all executions while they remained in office. While the Supreme Court remained committed to the constitutionality of the death penalty, it slowly chipped away at it in a series of decisions that narrowed the range of persons whom the state could execute.
Public support for the death penalty, already in decline during the late 1990s, continued to fall in the 21st century. A number of factors depressed support for the death penalty to levels not seen since the early 1970s: a decline in violent crime and fear of crime; highly publicized DNA-based exonerations of death-row inmates; and wariness of the cost of maintaining the death penalty, particularly during the great recession of the late 2000s.
The use of the death penalty was declining as well. The expansion of life without parole as an alternative punishment in the 1990s and 2000s gave juries in some states harsh alternatives to death sentences that they did not previously have. Longer-term changes to the judicial and penal administration of the death, meanwhile, continued to make the path between conviction and execution longer and more difficult for state officials to traverse. Most offenders sentenced to death since the 1970s were not (or have not yet been) put to death, and the average wait on death row for those who have been executed has grown to over a decade and a half. Growing problems with the practice of lethal injection, meanwhile, have posed new problems for states seeking to execute capital defendants in the 2000s, producing new legal battles and bringing executions nationwide to a temporary halt in 2007–2008.
The 2016 election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency of the United States, however, may portend a slowing or reversing Americans’ 21st-century turn away from the death penalty.
Disciplinary segregation is a punishment that prison officials impose in response to inmate violations of prison rules such as assaulting another inmate or disrespecting an officer. Disciplinary segregation is distinct from other types of restrictive housing (e.g., supermax confinement, administrative segregation), but it is the most commonly used form of restrictive housing in most states. Inmates housed in disciplinary segregation typically spend 23 hours a day in a cell, with limited interaction with other inmates or prison staff. Inmates’ access to other privileges such as recreation, programming, and visitation is also restricted during their time in disciplinary segregation.
Prison officials have the discretion to place inmates found guilty of violations of the inmate rules of conduct in disciplinary segregation, and indeed, segregation is a common response to rule violations. It is expected that confinement in disciplinary segregation will deter inmates’ subsequent rule breaking, but some scholars argue that confinement in disciplinary segregation amplifies inmates’ misbehavior via labeling or by stimulating mental health problems that ultimately result in problem behaviors (e.g., rule violations). Despite these assertions, there is little evidence regarding the impact of disciplinary segregation on inmates’ behavior or mental health. Precise estimates of the extent of the inmate population exposed to disciplinary segregation (and their level of exposure), and studies of the factors that influence prison officials’ decision to place inmates in disciplinary segregation are also limited. The frequency with which disciplinary segregation is used, its greater cost compared to general population confinement, and calls for the equitable and effective use of restrictive housing in prisons by civil rights advocates, the U.S. Congress, and former President Obama underscore the need for further research on the topic.
Margaret Colgate Love
Executive clemency has a rich history in the United States, both as an agent of justice and as a tool of politics. A presidential power to pardon was included in Article II of the Constitution, and all but one of the state constitutions provides for a clemency mechanism. States have established a variety of ways to manage and sometimes limit a governor’s exercise of the constitutional pardoning power, but the president’s power has remained unlimited by law. Until quite recently, clemency played a fully operational part in both federal and state justice systems, and the pardoning power was used regularly and generously to temper the harsh results of a criminal prosecution. Presidents also used their power to calm and unify the country after a period of strife, and to further policy goals when legislative solutions fell short.
But in modern times unruly clemency’s justice-enhancing role has been severely diminished, initially because reforms in the legal system made it less necessary, but later because of theoretical and practical objections to its regular use. A reluctance on the part of elected officials to take political risks, as well as clemency-related controversies, have further eroded clemency’s legitimacy. As a result, in most U.S. jurisdictions clemency now plays a limited role, and the public regards its exercise with suspicion. There are only about a dozen states in which clemency operates as an integral part of the justice system, in large part because its exercise is protected from political pressures by constitutional design. At the same time, the need for an effective clemency mechanism has never been greater, particularly in the federal system, because of lengthy mandatory prison sentences and the lifelong collateral civil consequences of conviction. It appears unlikely that an unregulated and unrestrained executive power will ever be restored to its former justice-enhancing role, so that those concerned about fairness and proportionality in criminal punishments must engage in the more demanding work of democratic reform.
Stories involving false confessions can be emotional and moving, as they appeal to our innate desire for justice. As such, stories of false confessions can be powerful tools in books, films, and televisions shows. The way that a false confession is framed, and the context in which it is introduced to consumers (whether as readers or viewers) makes a big difference in how a false confession will be perceived.
In fictional stories in print or on screen, typically the viewer (or reader) has some sense of a person’s true innocence or guilt. In a television show, the viewer may have already seen a clip of the crime with the true criminal. Other musical or visual cues may also give viewers clues as to the true guilt or innocence of an individual offering a confession to a crime. Because viewers know, or will know, the true identity of the person who committed the crime in question, the use of an interrogation or a false confession (or both) can be used to demonstrate the moral character of the confessor. In exactly the same way, the use of a false confession in a fictional story can be used to demonstrate the morality of a police officer or even a whole police department. For example, a scene depicting the interrogation of a suspect that viewers know is not guilty may be used to demonstrate the use of immoral, coercive interrogation techniques by television detectives.
In nonfiction, the exploration of false confessions is often used to demonstrate the fallibility of the justice system. Because the idea that an innocent person would confess falsely to a crime that they did not commit seems incredibly counterintuitive to the average person, in-depth explorations (whether in documentaries, podcast series, newspaper or magazine expose, etc.) of the process by which false confessions can happen can be instrumental in helping people understand the reality of the phenomenon. The way a case or a confession is framed in the media and understood in popular culture also impacts our social construction of that person’s guilt or innocence.
Kai Ambos and Alexander Heinze
International Criminal Justice is a controversial concept, and there is a burgeoning body of literature on its exact contours. Understood broadly, the term “international criminal justice” covers a broad category, integrating international criminal law (ICL) within an overarching interdisciplinary enterprise also “incorporating philosophical, historical, political and international relations, sociological, anthropological and criminological perspectives” (Roberts, 2007). International criminal law consists, at its core, of a combination of criminal law and public international law principles. The idea of individual criminal responsibility and the concept of prosecuting an individual for a specific (macrocriminal) act are derived from criminal law, while the classical (Nuremberg) offenses form part of (public) international law and thus the respective conduct is directly punishable under ICL (principle of direct individual criminal responsibility in public international law). The dualistic base of international criminal law is also reflected in the reading of the mandates of the international criminal tribunals; one can either take a “security, peace, and human rights”–oriented approach or a “criminal justice”–oriented approach, either of which may entail a paradoxical goal or purpose ambiguity of international criminal law. In any case, the strong grounding in criminal law, together with the actual enforcement of international criminal law by way of international criminal proceedings and trials, converts international criminal law into criminal law on a supranational level and thus entails the full application of the well-known principles of liberal, post-enlightenment criminal law, in particular the principles of legality, culpability, and fairness. These principles constitute the minimum standard of any criminal justice system based on the rule of law and thus must also apply in an international criminal justice system. The adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 1998 and the effective establishment of the Court in 2002 have led to an institutionalization of international criminal law, turning the page on ad hoc imposition in favor of a treaty-based universal system. In addition, the Rome Statute provides for the first codification of international criminal law, with a potentially universal reach. Therewith, international criminal law was not only united into a single penal system of the international community, but it was also extended beyond its fundamental core areas of substantive and procedural law into other branches of criminal law (law of sanctions, enforcement of sentences, and judicial assistance).
Michael T. Light and Jason P. Robey
Amid global trends of increasingly mobile populations, scholars have debated whether national citizenship status remains relevant for international migrants. Some argue that international courts have practically eliminated the differences between citizens and noncitizens through equal protection under the law, while others maintain that national membership remains an essential form of stratification in modern societies. Recent trends in immigration enforcement seem to emphasize the continuing salience of citizenship, as criminal sanctions have become increasingly commonplace in border control. With the increasing importation of criminal justice strategies into migration policy, Western societies have witnessed dramatic increases in the number of noncitizens adjudicated and punished in recent decades, a trend that has gained considerable steam in the United States under the Trump administration. For example, between the president’s inauguration (January 20, 2018) and the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2018), the number of immigration arrests increased by 42% over the same time period in 2016. Yet despite these debates and trends, the role of citizenship status has received only limited consideration within the field of criminology. In the same vein, the role of punishment has been underappreciated in the field of citizenship studies. Against this backdrop, theoretical insights from the sociology of punishment are connected with three central aspects of citizenship: (1) state sovereignty, (2) cultural understanding, and (3) group membership. Drawing these parallels to theoretical and methodological traditions within criminology will set new research paths for future scholars to understand criminology in the context of a globalizing world increasingly characterized by international migration.
Sentencing guidelines were created with the goal of reducing unwarranted disparities in sentencing outcomes based on race, gender, and other legally irrelevant characteristics in order to establish a uniform sentencing system. In the 21st century, approximately 21 states and the federal courts use sentencing guidelines, although the types of guidelines used vary, with some more restrictive than others. With the quest to create more uniform sentences, scholars have examined whether the guidelines have actually reduced unwarranted disparities in sentencing outcomes. One area that has received attention from sentencing scholars as an avenue for the potential reintroduction of disparity into the sentencing process is the ability to sentence offenders outside of the guideline range, a practice otherwise known as “sentencing departures.”
Departures from guideline sentences are either below or above the suggested guideline range for a particular offense, with most departures resulting in below guideline sentences. Both judges and prosecutors have the authority to issue departures. Within the federal sentencing guideline system, prosecutors have the sole discretion to offer substantial assistance and other types of government-sponsored downward departures. The amount of discretion given to federal judges to depart from the guidelines has changed dramatically over the years, and the use of departures has subsequently increased in recent years. Research has examined whether this increase in departures has resulted in an increase in unwarranted disparity once again. This research has primarily focused on two related questions: (1) Have departures increased disparities in sentencing outcomes based on race, ethnicity, gender, or other factors? (2) Who is most likely to receive a departure sentence? Several studies have found there to be differences in likelihood of receiving departures; with African Americans, males, and offenders charged with specific types of crimes less likely to receive downward departures. Other research, however, has further suggested that the increased use of departures may not have increased sentencing disparities based on race or ethnicity. Additionally, a new scope of research has emerged which takes a more nuanced examination of sentencing departures; looking at variations among districts, policy disagreement departures, and other considerations. Ultimately, the current body of research on the use, consequences, and implications of sentencing departures has provided some mixed findings and many questions remain unresolved. As research on departures continues, our understanding of the complex nature of sentencing decisions under guideline based systems will continue to grow.