Canadian Journal of Sociology Online March - April 2003

David Garland.
The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society.

University of Chicago Press, 2001, 320 pp.
$US 30 hardcover (0-226-28383-6)

With the publication of The Culture of Control David Garland has once again demonstrated why he is one of today’s pre-eminent Criminologists. The author’s goal is to present a ‘history of the present’ of penological developments in the United States and Britain during the ‘late modern’ period. Through meticulous attention to detail reminiscent of Michel Foucault and through a plethora of examples expertly used to buoy his claims, Garland has masterfully achieved his objective. Written in very accessible prose, Garland’s latest contribution deserves, and no doubt will receive, a wide readership.

The Culture of Control presents a complex argument about the rise of a schizophrenic crime control complex that Garland argues is characteristic of late modern penality. In highlighting how justice policies on both sides of the Atlantic took their contemporary shape, Garland’s book makes a significant contribution to debates on the rise of punitiveness in contemporary Western nations (Beckett 1997, Newburn 2002, Simon 2001), the contradictory nature of 21st century justice policy (O’Malley 1999) and the political interests knotted within this process (Hogeveen and Smandych 2001, Campbell, Dufresne and Maclure 2001, Goldson 2002). Garland’s interrogation of the nuances distinguishing contemporary crime control policy from those that dominated for most of the 20th century is easily one of the most ambitious and comprehensive to date.

Throughout the book Garland is careful not to argue that the changes he sees in late 20th century American and British justice policy signal the end of modernity and the blossoming of post modernity. Instead, he suggests that recent crime control initiatives on both sides of the Atlantic represent a ‘reconfigured complex of interlocking structures and strategies that are themselves composed of old and new elements, the old revised and reoriented by a new operation context’ (23). Recent developments in penality, however, are marked in sharp contrast with post WW II programmes. Distinguished by a commitment to community based solutions to the crime problem, rehabilitating offenders, indeterminate sentences and creating tailor made solutions to each deviant’s unique qualities, Garland argues that ‘penal welfarism’ that characterized criminal justice practice from the 1890s to the 1970s has been increasingly dismantled.

As a result of significant societal and economic changes, Garland suggests that the new politics of crime control are socially and culturally conditioned and have become increasingly more expressive and instrumental (139). He suggests that contemporary justice policy is bifurcated by an adaptive strategy characterized by community partnership and a sovereign state strategy that stresses coercive control of offenders. According to Garland this divide emerged when high crime rates became normal, the rehabilitative ideal fell out of favour, and the penal welfare complex failed to protect the public from the risks associated with crime (141).

Garland argues that in contrast to ‘penal welfarism,’ contemporary crime control policy can be distinguished by the (re)emergence of punitive sanctions and expressive justice, the return of the victim, and the politicization of crime issues. One of Garland’s most remarkable observations concerns the reinvention of the prison. Suggesting that Western nations possess high rates of imprisonment seems pedestrian. However, this was not always the case. Within the post-war penal welfare justice complex prisons were in many ways considered schools for crime, counterproductive, and a last resort. Garland explains that significant governmental effort was ‘expended on the task of creating alternatives to incarceration and encouraging sentencers to use them’ (14). For most of the twentieth century a secular shift away from carceral punishment was evident. This trend is no longer observable in contemporary American and British penality where record numbers of offenders are currently being locked up.

Although Garland focuses exclusively on the United States and Britain, parallels can be drawn to the Canadian experience. Arguably, these trends are much more pronounced in the two countries Garland has studied. Nevertheless, Canada, too, has placed greater emphasis on the prison as a solution to deviance and downloaded responsibility for crime control onto the community. The effects of ‘late modern’ penality, however, were observable much later in this country than in the U.S. and Britain and are particularly obvious in the juvenile justice field. In recent years several scholars have presented evidence that Canada’s incarceration rate for young offenders (Québec is an exception) now rivals, if not exceeds, American rates (Sprott 2001, Sprott and Snyder 2000). At the same time, Canada’s recently enacted Youth Criminal Justice Act places a premium on community based programmes like restorative justice and diversion. In addition, the Federal Government has ear marked $206 million spread over three years to encourage the development and implementation of community based crime control strategies for young offenders.

Linking developments in the United States and Britain allows Garland to demonstrate the dissemination of crime control strategies and penological developments cross culturally. Doing so also opens his analysis to criticism. While reading the book I was continually distracted by a lack of any consistent discussion of differences in crime control strategies between the two nations. Greater attention to the gross overrepresentation of minority populations in prisons across the United States would have been beneficial in this regard. The visibly different and politically powerless continue to make up the class of offender who most often feels the justice system’s sting, yet the author does not fully engage with this characteristic feature of late modern penality. In addition, Garland glosses over how contemporary criminal justice policy differentially effect women and men.

Lest I cut short the due importance this work is warranted, I hesitate to paint it as a book about penology or Criminology for that matter. No doubt scholars across other disciplines (i.e. Sociology, Political Science, and Philosophy) will find something of value in Garland’s work. Given its accessibility and importance, this book is recommended to anyone who has an interest in the intersections between crime, its control, and society.

Bryan Hogeveen
University of Alberta

Bryan Hogeveen is Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Alberta. His current research explores the introduction of, and how young offenders will be governed under, Canada’s new youth justice legislation.


Beckett, Katherine (1997) Making Crime Pay: Law and Order in Contemporary American Politics. (New York: Oxford University Press).
Campbell, Katherine, Martin Dufresne and Richard Maclure (2001) ‘Amending Youth Justice Policy in Canada: Discourse, Mediation and Ambiguity,’ Howard Journal 40(3): 272-284.
Goldson, Barry (2002) ‘New Punitiveness: The Politics of Child Incarceration’, pp. 386-401 in John Muncie, Gordon Hughes and Eugene McLaughlin (eds.). Youth Justice: Critical Readings. London: Sage.
Hogeveen, Bryan and Russell Smandych (2001) ‘Origins of the Newly Proposed Youth Criminal Justice Act: Political Discourse and the Perceived Crisis in Youth Crime in the 1990s’, pp.144-169 in Russell Smandych (ed.). Youth Justice: History, Legislation and Reform. Toronto: Harcourt.
Newburn, Tim (2002) ‘Atlantic Crossings: “Policy Transfer” and Crime Control in the USA and Britain’, Punishment and Society 4(2): 165-194.
O’Malley, Pat (1999) ‘Volatile and Contradictory Punishment,’ Theoretical Criminology 3(2): 175-196.
Simon, Jonathan (2001) ‘”Entitlement to Cruelty”: Neo-liberalism and the Punitive Mentality in the United States’, pp. 125-143 in Kevin Stenson and Robert Sullivan (eds.) Crime Risk and Justice: The Politics of Crime Control in Liberal Democracies. Portland: Willan Publishing.
Sprott, Jane (2001) Background for the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Ottawa: Department of Justice.
Sprott, Jane and H. Snyder (2000) ‘Une comparaison de la délinquance des jeunes au Canada et aux étates-Unis’, Criminologie 32(2), 56-82.
March 2003
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