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Is there substance to the Conservatives’ tough-on-crime agenda, or is it just optics? Understanding how the crime agenda has come to play a starring role in the current government’s quest for a majority requires a short tour through the recent history of thinking about crime and punishment – and specifically of the gap that has opened between practitioners and social scientists of crime and penology, on the one hand, and the response by populist politicians, on the other. What is interesting about this domain of social policy is that it pits peer-reviewed social scientific evidence against what policymakers viscerally feel compelled to do: to be seen to be “doing something” in an issue area that arouses strong emotions and powerful fears.

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