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When Children Kill Children - Penal Populism and Political Culture
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When Children Kill Children - Penal Populism and Political Culture

Price: $66.00
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Published Jan 2012 (OUP)
ISBN: 9780199653522. Now in Paperback, 352 pages.

Winner of the British Society of Criminology Prize 2009

David A. Green 


  • Tackles penal populism and the media through the lens of two specific and controversial cases in a unique treatment of this subject 
  • Discusses the role played by political culture in explaining the different press, political, and public responses to high-profile crimes 
  • Proposes reform strategies for improving the adverserial nature of English political culture, in contrast to the more descriptive approaches of other texts dealing with the topic 

When Children Kill Children: Penal Populism and Political Culture examines the role of political culture and penal populism in the response to the emotive subject of child-on-child homicide. The book explores the reasons underlying the vastly differing responses of the English and Norwegian criminal justice systems to the cases of James Bulger and Silje Redergard respectively. Whereas James Bulger's killers were subject to extreme press and public hostility, held in secure detention for nine months and tried in an adverserial court; Redergard's killers were shielded from public antagonism and carefully reintegrated into the local community. 


This book argues that English adverserial political culture creates far more incentives to politicize high-profile crimes than Norwegian consensus political culture. Drawing on a wealth of empirical research, the author suggests that the tendency for politicians to justify punitive responses to crime by invoking harsh political attitudes is based upon a flawed understanding of public opinion. In a compelling study, this book proposes a more deliberative response to crime that accommodates the informed public in news ways - ways that might help build social capital and remove incentives for cynical penal populism. Readership: Criminologistsm Socio-legal and media scholars; sociologists; psychologists; policy makers. 

"Many people talk of the need for comparative method in criminology, few have attempted it and even fewer contribute so imaginatively to the forefront of scholarship as does David Green in this study." - Jock Young, Graduate Center, City University of New York. Author of The Criminological Imagination 

"David Green uses comparative analysis of two high-profile child-on-child homicides to explore the complex interconnections between media processes, public opinion and political culture. It would be impressive enough to achieve Green's analytical sophistication in just one of these areas. The extraordinary achievement of When Children Kill Children is to demonstrate theoretical and empirical sophistication, resulting in compelling and cogent analysis, across all three. A remarkable feat of critical scholarship. A genuinely enlightening book." - Chris Greer, City University London

"A master class in comparative criminology, this study proves there is an alternative to demonization in response to child-on-child homicide." - David Downes, London School of Economics


1: When children kill children 

2: Culture, politics in the media in Norway and England 

3: Crime and punishment in Norway and England 

4: The constraints and effects of political culture 

5: The constraints of discourse 

6: Media constraints and the formation of political opinions 

7: Contextualizing tragedy 

8: English penal policy climates and political culture 

9: Political culture, legitimacy, and penal populism 

10: Public opinion versus public judgment 

11: Effecting penal climate change

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