Cover: Dangerous Offenders: The Elusive Target of Justice, from Harvard University PressCover: Dangerous Offenders in E-DITION

Dangerous Offenders

The Elusive Target of Justice

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$65.00 • £54.95 • €60.00

ISBN 9780674428652

Publication Date: 01/01/1984

252 pages



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Americans rank crime among the most urgent of social concerns. Overflowing prisons and public outcry have led many to propose that the criminal justice system could control crime more effectively by focusing on dangerous offenders.

Recent social studies have suggested that serious criminality is highly concentrated and that high-rate offenders can be distinguished from others on the basis of prior criminal conduct, drug abuse, and employment record. Such studies urge judges to shift from rehabilitative sentencing to selective incapacitation, with longer prison sentences for convicted criminals who are deemed unusually dangerous. In response to these recommendations, some prosecutors’ offices have established career criminal units designed to assure that repeat offenders will be prosecuted to the full measure of the law. Some police departments are experimenting with “perpetrator-oriented patrols” targeted on suspected high-rate offenders.

The authors of this major book in criminal jurisprudence describe and analyze the intellectual and social challenge posed to public officials by this new thrust in criminal justice policy. They develop a framework for evaluating policies that focus on dangerous offenders. They first examine the general issues that arise as society considers the benefits and risks of concentrating on a particular category of criminals. They then outline how that approach might work at each stage of the criminal justice system—sentencing, pretrial detention, prosecution, and investigation.

This cogently argued book provides much needed guidance on the crucial questions of whether sharpened attention to dangerous offenders is just, whether such a policy can be effective in managing the problem of crime, which applications seem particularly valuable, what the long-term risks to social institutions are, and what uncertainties must be monitored and resolved as the policy evolves.

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