News Release

Punishment and prisons -- leading criminologist argues for a new way of thinking

Book Announcement

SAGE Publications UK

Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC (19th June 2009) – Prison should be abolished in its current form, according to Joe Sim, Professor of Criminology at Liverpool John Moores University.

Writing in his new book, Punishment and Prisons, published last month by SAGE, he argues the current prison system is built on an endless series of reforms which have done little to alleviate crime or protect society.

Sim argues that "the modern prison has not only been tirelessly critiqued but also has been subjected to endless reforms which have attempted to alleviate the failure of the institution to achieve its stated, overt goals of crime prevention, individual and collective deterrence and the reform or rehabilitation of the offender. Despite these critiques, the institution has always been offered as the solution to its own problems……"

The endless expansion in penal institutions has led to mass overcrowding in some prisons, yet incarceration is widely seen as the only solution. Tracing the development of penal strategy since 1974, the book highlights the continuities in penal policy, and the role and place of the prison as an arena of often unrelenting punishment and pain. Sim claims that the system produces social harm, which is very rarely addressed by liberal prison reformers or those responsible for managing the system. He describes what he identifies as the prison's "extraordinary capacity for mystifying its punitive capabilities for inflicting pain and inculcating fear, and if need be terror, into the lives of the confined."

"The debate about prison, both in politics and the media, is based on focussing on the institution's overt goals: rehabilitation, individual deterrence, general prevention, and incapacitation," says Sim. "Indeed, in discussions about the impact of the prison's culture it is state servants - prison (and police) officers - who are conceptualised as victims of that culture, usually with respect to the violence that they face in their everyday lives."

The book also highlights the inequality in the criminal justice system, with the 'targeting of the powerless': Given the most recent media and political debates about the non policing of the powerful whether inside or outside Parliament, this is a particularly important issue as it raise serious questions about social harm and who and what behaviour is punished by the state.

As he argues, "both Conservative and New Labour governments have had everything to say about the crimes of the powerless and the punishment that powerless individuals should receive. In contrast, they have had very little to say about crimes of the powerful and what should be done about them, despite the huge social costs that their depredations inflict."

Sim sets out a series of policy proposals for alleviating the current crisis in prisons. He outlines a policy agenda for transforming the role and place of the prison in the criminal justice system.

The book lays out the need for change – namely the abolition of the current system.

"The unrelenting support for the prison from politicians, and the mass media, has only added to the seeming impregnability of the institution to any ideological or material challenge," says Sim. "Other solutions to the problem of crime are marginalized and neglected in favour of a punitive, self defeating response to offending behaviour."

Articulate, provocative and theoretically informed, Punishment and Prisons offers a critical overview of contemporary penal politics that will prove a compelling addition to the criminological literature concerning penal institutions. The book is written not only for students and academics but also for those involved in the debates on penal policy – including prison reform groups, politicians and the media.


Punishment and Prisons by Joe Sim is published by SAGE. Available in paperback and hard cover:

Paperback ISBN: 9780761960041 £21.99
Hardcover ISBN: 9780761960034 £65.00

For further information visit

For a review copy email

SAGE is a leading international publisher of journals, books, and electronic media for academic, educational, and professional markets. Since 1965, SAGE has helped inform and educate a global community of scholars, practitioners, researchers, and students spanning a wide range of subject areas including business, humanities, social sciences, and science, technology, and medicine. An independent company, SAGE has principal offices in Los Angeles, London, New Delhi, Singapore and Washington DC.

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