The Public Interest

Criminal justice in England and America

James Q. Wilson

Winter 1997

TWENTY years ago, I discussed in this magazine how England and America dealt with crime. [1] Then, crime in both nations was increasing rapidly. England, of course, had vastly fewer violent offenses than the United States, but even with property crime—burglary, for example— England had fewer offenses than did we. Though both nations had rising levels of crime, England, at least, seemed determined to do something about it. There, “the chances of going to prison for having committed a serious crime [were] much greater” than they are here. This might explain, I suggested, why English property crime rates were lower than ours. There was, however, one worrisome note: The chances of going to prison in England were declining, a fact that might help explain why crime there, though lower than here, was rising. 

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