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Founding the Criminal Law: Punishment and Political Thought in the Origins of America

Publisher: Northern Illinois University Press • Nov 1, 1999 • 207 pages


Why does society punish criminals? What political principles underlie the determination of punishment to suit the crime? In Founding the Criminal Law, Pestritto studies policies concerning crime and punishment in early America to better understand political thought during the founding era, bringing fresh insights to modern debates about the consequences of lawbreaking.

Basing his research on original government documents, state constitutions, the arguments of America’s founders, and the writings of such influential reformers as William Penn, William Bradford, and Thomas Jefferson, Pestritto analyzes the complex mix of punishment philosophies at work in early America. He shows how the political principles that guided America’s founders in their selection of criminal punishments contribute to the current debate over crime and justice in America. Impressive and interdisciplinary, Founding the Criminal Law holds particular interest for political scientists, American and legal historians, and criminal justice scholars.

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