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The Penal System

The Penal System
An Introduction

Fifth Edition
  • Michael Cavadino - University of Central Lancashire, UK
  • James Dignan - formerly Professor of Comparative Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Leeds
  • George Mair - Liverpool Hope University, UK
Additional resources:

April 2013 | 400 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

Now in its fifth edition, The Penal System: An Introduction remains the most complete, accessible and authoritative resource for your studies in Criminal Justice and Criminology. Fully revised and updated to account for recent changes in the Criminal Justice System, the new edition includes:

  • Expanded material on restorative justice
  • An expanded section on gender and the Criminal Justice System
  • Greater coverage of comparative issues, focussing especially on Scotland
  • An annually updated companion website, keeping you up-to-date with relevant legislation and crucial developments
  • An accessible writing style balanced against a critical and scholarly approach
  • A glossary of key terms that you'll encounter throughout your studies
  • Continued critical coverage of the deepening penal crisis, including sections on the managerial crisis and the crisis of accountability 

The Penal System consolidates and builds on the successful formula of the fourth edition, bringing the text in line with the key issues facing the Criminal Justice System today. It will prove essential reading across all undergraduate levels for modules on Criminal Justice and Prisons/Punishment.

Companion Website
The Criminal Justice System
The Penal Crisis and Strategies for Criminal Justice
Notes on Terminology: 'Punishment' and 'System'
Crisis? What Crisis?
Is there a Crisis?
The Orthadox Account of the Crisis
The High Prison Population (The Numbers Crisis)


Bad Conditions


Staff Unrest

'Toxic Mix' of Prisoners

Riots and Disorder

Criticisms of the Orthodox Account

Improving on the Orthadox Account
The Crisis of Penological Resources

The Crisis of Visibility

The Crisis of Legitimacy

Responses to the Crisis
A Radical Pluralist Account of the Crisis
Justifying Punishment
Is Punishment Unjust?



Just Deserts: Retributivism and Denunciation


Restorative Justice
Schools of Penal Thought
The Classical School: Deterrence and the Tariff

Bentham and Neo-Classicism: Deterrence and Reform

Positivism: The Rehabilitative Ideal

The Justice Model: Just Deserts and Due Process

From Just Deserts to the New Punitiveness - and Beyond?

Philosophies, Strategies and Attitudes
Conclusions: Punishment and Human Rights
Explaining Punishment
The Sociology of Punishment
The Marxist Tradition
Economic Determinism: Rusche and Kirchheimer

Ideology and Hegemony: The Legacy of Gramsci

Structuralist Marxism and Althusser

Post-Structuralism, Discipline and Power: Michel Foucault

Humanistic Materialism: The Case of E. P. Thompsom

The Durkheimian Tradition
The Weberian Tradition
Pluralism and Radical Pluralism
Applying Penal Sociology
The New Penology and The New Punitiveness

Comparative Penology and the New Punitiveness

Sentencing: The Crux of the Crisis
The Crux of the Crisis
Who Are the Sentencers?
Constraints on the Powers of Sentencers
Judical Independence and Traditional English Sentencing

Confining Discretion

Checking Discretion: Appeals

Structuring Discretion: Principles and Guidelines

The Current Legal Framework of Sentencing

A Brief, Tangled Recent History of Sentencing
1991: From the Strategy of Encouragement to Just Deserts

1992-97: The Law and Order Counter-Reformation

New Labour, Mixed Messages

Coalition False Dawn

A Rational Approach?
Punishment in the Community
Community Punishment in a Rapidly Changing Penal Landscape
Non-Custodial Punishment: the Current Sentencing Framework
Nominal and Warning Penalties

Financial Penalties

Compensatory Penalties

Reparative Penalties and Restorative Justice Approaches

Supervisory Penalties and the Changing Role of the Probation Service

Community Payback (Community Service or Unpaid Work)

Surveillance and Restrictions on Movement: Curfews and Electronic Monitoring

'Hybrid Penalties'

Community Punishment: Strategic Issues
Changing Penal Strategies and their Impact on the Use of Imprisonment and Community Punishment

Enforcement of Community Sentences: Sticks or Carrots?

'Sentence Management' and the Changing Role of the Judiciary

Effectiveness of Community Sentences

Contestability and Privatization

Shifting Patterns of Penality: Theoretical Reflections
Scull's 'Decarceration' Thesis

Cohen and Mathiesen: the 'Dispersal of Discipline' Thesis

Bottoms' 'Juridical Revival' Thesis

Conclusion: The Future of Punishment?
Prisons and the Penal Crisis
The Aims and Functions of Imprisonment
Official Aims of Imprisonment

Social Functions of Imprisonment

The Prison System
The Prisons and the Prisoners


The Debate Around Prison Privatization

Privatization and the Crisis of Resources

Key Phases in Recent Prison Policy-Making
1995-1999: The Security and Control Agenda - Post-Woolf Backlash

1999-2002: 'Decency Agenda' and 'Effectiveness Credo' - The Quest for a Balanced Approach

2002-2006: Keeping the Lid On - Pragmatism Reasserts Itself

2006-2012: Where do we go From Here?

The Prison System and its Crises
The Managerial Crisis

The Crises of Containment and Security

The Prison Numbers Crisis and the Problem of Overcrowding

The Crisis of Conditions

The Crises of Control and Authority

The Crisis of Accountability

The Crisis of Legitimacy and How to Tackle it

Early Release: The Penal System's Safety Valve
Early Release: Useful, Controversial, Troublesome
History of Early Release
From Remission to Automatic Early Release

Parole (Discretionary Early Release)

Early Release Today
Fixed-term (Determinate) Sentences

Extended Sentences (Extended Determinate Sentences)

Life Imprisonment and Imprisonment for Public Protection

The Parole Board

Conclusion: Early Release Evaluated
The Youth Justice System
Young People, Crime and the Penal Crisis
Responding to Youth Crime: Models of Youth Justice
The Welfare Model

The Justice Model

Minimum Intervention and Systems Management

The Restorative Justice Model


Neo-Correctional Youth Justice, 1997
Responding to Youth Crime: the Youth Justice System in Operation
Concluding Assessment: No More Excuses?
Bias in the Criminal Justice System
Solving the Crisis?
A Grim Fairy Tale
Responses to the Crisis, 1970-2006
From Positivism to Law and Order with Bifurcation: 1970-1987

Just Deserts and Punishment in the Community: 1987-1992

Law and Order Reinvigorated: 1993-1997

'Tough On Crime, Tough On the Causes of Crime': New Labour, 1997-2010

Coalition False Dawn: 2010 Onwards

How to Solve the Crisis
Approaches to the Penal Crisis

Measures to Solve the Crisis

The Prospects

Glossary of Key Terms


Cavadino Penal 5e Website

Free resources on the companion website:

  • Recent developments for each chapter
  • Links to information about key legislation and official reports
  • A glossary of key terms 
  • Links to suggested websites
  • Links to further reading in SAGE journals 
  • Lecture slides
  • A seminar programme

From its original publication onwards, The Penal System has proved itself a sure and authoritative guide to the post-war history and character of the penal system of England and Wales. Unrivalled as a textbook on the subject, its authors, now strengthened by the addition of George Mair, combine the analysis of trends with a clear sense of narrative and an eye for the telling detail. It is a masterly achievement, invaluable for students and teachers alike.
David Downes
Professor Emeritus of Social Policy, The Mannheim Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice, London School of Economics

I have read successive editions of The Penal System since I was an undergraduate. It has been an indispensible companion on my journey through the criminal justice system. Today it continues to be a vital resource for critically examining and understanding the use of punishment in England and Wales.
Dr. Jamie Bennett
Research Associate, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford

The Penal System, written by three heavyweights of penological study, is an excellent introductory text for anyone interested in this area. It is intelligently written and explains complex issues in an accessible and engaging way. I will definitely be recommending this to my Penology Students.
Dr. Karen Harrison
Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Hull

While there is clearly a great deal of researched and developed expertisecontained in this book, it lacks experiential insights into the penal system whichmeans that some of the theories explored are untested. The book is, however, a positive contribution to undergraduate studies in terms of understanding the criminal justice system at a macro level; and it may represent a valuable resource to other authors and researchers. While I have outlined some of my reservations above I would, nonetheless recommend it as prerequisite reading for those wishing to further their theoretical understanding of the penal system.

Gary Monaghan, Prison Governor, HMP Wormwood Scrubs
Probation Journal

This is one of two essential textbooks for my module 'Criminal Justice and the Penal System' and copies are available in the library ( 1 per 10 students) for the students taking this class.

Ms Janice Holloway
Law & Criminology, Aberystwyth University
June 13, 2016

This book gives wider reading in terms of penology. It is a one sided argument about the failings of the penal system, but this is highlighted from the start.

Mr Darren Woodward
Social Science , Grimsby Institute of HE & FE
June 6, 2016

A good textbook with a contemporary approach and easy to read

Ms Lorna Harris
Hillsborough College, Sheffield College
April 13, 2016

Through revisions this text has remained a key text for an early understanding of the penal system with a good level of understanding of the development in recent years.

Mr Ashley Tiffen
Institute of Policing and Criminal Justice Studies, University of Cumbria
June 16, 2015

Course has now ended.
Text was used as a supplement in 2013

Dr Julia Wardhaugh
School of Social Sciences, Bangor University
June 1, 2015

Course has now ended - it was used as a supplementary text in 2013

Dr Julia Wardhaugh
School of Social Sciences, Bangor University
June 1, 2015

Essential reading of the crisis in our prison system.

Mr William Graham
School of Social and Health Sciences, University of Abertay, Dundee
March 11, 2015

The book offers some excellent areas of exploration for the students. Aiding the consolidation of their lecture learning.

Miss Anna Waistnage
Health and Social care sciences, Grimsby Institute of HE & FE
October 22, 2014
Key features

New to the Fifth Edition of The Penal System:

  • Expanded material on restorative justice
  • An expanded section on gender and the Criminal Justice System
  • Greater coverage of comparative issues, focussing especially on Scotland
  • A new companion website with relevant legislation and crucial developments
  • Expanded material on restorative justice
  • An expanded section on gender and the Criminal Justice System
  • Greater coverage of comparative issues, focussing especially on Scotland
  • A new companion website with relevant legislation and crucial developments

Sample Materials & Chapters

The Penal System: Crisis? What Crisis?

For instructors