The Public Interest

In pursuit of criminal justice

Joseph M. Bessette

Fall 1997

DESPITE evidence suggesting that much of American public policy closely—perhaps too closely—mirrors public desires (for example, Social Security, Medicare, and the federal college-loan program), this is hardly the case in how we punish violent criminals. Policy makers and criminal justice practitioners set punishment levels well below what the public considers appropriate. Indeed, our punishment practices reflect a pronounced disconnect between reasonable public opinion, on the one hand, and actual government policy, on the other.

Download a PDF of the full article.



from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.