International Policy Transfer Research Paper

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There is a long history of the international exchange of ideas, research findings, policies and practices in criminal justice. In recent years, there has been a marked increase in more deliberate and strategic activity to “learn lessons” from the achievements (and sometimes the failures) of other nations and to “import” policies and practices. This has become known as policy transfer, which has been defined as “the process by which knowledge of ideas, institutions, policies and programmes in one setting is fed into the policymaking arena in the development and change of policies and programmes in another setting” (Dolowitz et al. 2000, 9). Transfer can take different forms, including copying, emulation, or inspiration. A nexus of factors – economic, political, social, cultural, and organizational – will influence the character and outcome of transfer attempts, and the complexity of these interactions makes the consequences of transfer inherently unpredictable. Different people may have different and changing motivations to transfer and, since neither the intended nor the actual consequences are always easy to identify, evaluation is far from straightforward. Consideration of policy transfer foregrounds the importance of agency and choice in penal policy, redressing theoretical tendencies to explain penal development solely in structural terms. Experiences of policy transfer often expose taken-for-granted features of criminal justice systems and illuminate influences that shape their character and development.


Countries have long exchanged ideas, research findings, and practices in all aspects of criminal justice. As Radzinowicz put it (1999, 357), “Imitations, mutations and cross-fertilization of all kinds of institutions and measures in response to crime can be traced in abundance throughout the world.. ..” These have included the study of crime and criminals; the collection, collation, and interpretation of criminal statistics; law; sentencing practice, policing, prisons, probation, working with victims, and crime prevention. Taking place through academic conferences and professional congresses, international publication, correspondence, and study visits, these exchanges have sometimes led to deliberate attempts to “import” institutions or practices from another country. Well-known examples may be found in historical accounts of developments in imprisonment and probation. The character and regime of Pentonville penitentiary in North London, the opening of which was an iconic event in prison history marked by historians as a radical new approach to imprisonment in England, were strongly influenced by American ideas: study visits had been undertaken to explore the relative merits of the silent associated system at Auburn and the solitary confinement regime in Philadelphia and to decide on the better model (Ignatieff 1978). In its turn, Pentonville was influential in shaping prison design in many other parts of Europe.

John Augustus, the Boston shoemaker, whose practice of standing bail for “for an array of convicted adult drunkards, delinquent children and young prostitutes” (Nellis 2007, 28) led many to think of him as the father of probation, inspired the work of probation officers in Massachusetts. These initiatives were later brought to the attention of the British Home Secretary by the Howard Association (ibid.) and contributed to the development of probation in England. Anglo-American models of probation were to become widely influential in many other countries. It is to be noted, however, as with the lessons taken into Pentonville, that it seems more accurate to speak of influence and adaptation rather than simple copying.

The case of Mettray, the boys’ reformatory, near Tours in central France, affords an instructive early example of both the possibilities and complications of transfer. In the mid-nineteenth century, Mettray was heralded as a model reformatory: many visitors were welcomed from abroad and penal institutions or colonies modelled on Mettray were established in a number of countries. Sydney Turner and Thomas Paynter were sent out from England to find out if the principles of the institution could be replicated in their own country. While they found much to admire, they drew particular attention to differences between French and English culture and tradition so that “… there can be no mere transplanting of it [Mettray] to this country” (Smith 2008, 76). They also noted that the character of Mettray was powerfully influenced by the personal qualities of its charismatic founder, Fre´de´ric-Auguste Demetz, raising questions about the longer-term future of the reformatory as well as precluding any simply imitative “transfer.”

The reflections of Turner and Paynter, recognizing that culture, context, setting, and individuals are quite as important as particular techniques or methods in determining the effectiveness of penal practice, should stay in the minds of all involved in modern policy transfer endeavors. Many initiatives are developed regionally or locally and may not be assumed to be readily transferable even to other parts of the same country (Crawford 1998; Edwards and Hughes 2005). In the case of programs to reduce reoffending, for example, even within a single country, initiatives and programs that have had encouraging outcomes in a pilot stage, once “rolled out” nationally, often fail to achieve such impressive results. Plausible explanations include the likelihood that the enthusiasm of the staff who were involved in the first programs, their commitment to and understanding of a new program, may not be replicated when the program is introduced somewhere else (Raynor 2004). Other contextual factors – staff training, committed leadership, targeting (making sure the right people attend), resourcing, and staff supervision – can make a decisive difference. When these programs are taken to another country, with different practices, institutions, and traditions, such challenges increase exponentially.

Thinking About Transfer

David Dolowitz (ibid.) framed a series of questions that constitute a framework within which to explore and interpret what can take place when a jurisdiction considers adopting policies, practices, or institutions from elsewhere. These include:

  • Why transfer? This opens an inquiry into the motivations of those involved. It includes consideration of the reasons why it was felt that policy needed to change at all and why reference to another country was found to be the way to innovate (rather than have recourse to local “indigenous” solutions). It has been suggested that specific transfer initiatives can be placed on a spectrum from voluntary to “coerced” (Newburn and Sparks 2004). Some governments are actively keen to introduce policies from other countries – perhaps because they are believed to be effective and/ or they are thought to be politically advantageous. At the other extreme, conformity with international requirements (e.g., human rights conventions) can require countries to introduce policies even with a degree of reluctance. For example, since no country has ever been admitted to the European Union without first being a member of the Council of Europe (which requires a formal commitment to the European Human Rights Convention), economic ambitions and the aspiration to eventual membership of the EU have been a prominent incentive for some former Soviet countries to enhance human rights by reforming their penal practices and to be seen to be modernizing (Canton 2006). At the same time, many people in these countries hoped to repudiate the Soviet legacy, to find less repressive (and less expensive) responses to crime and to develop criminal justice practices that were consistent with their standing and self-awareness as transitional democracies. It is not clear in such circumstances whether adopting penal policies from other countries should be described as voluntary or coerced. No less significantly, motivations may change in the course of the transfer process: as the full implications of transfer become clearer, what was initially sought may now be much less welcome or, on the other hand, what was resisted may now be embraced. Again, a government may adopt a policy voluntarily, while its administration and judiciary may be rather less enthusiastic but find that they have little choice. Many agents are involved, then, and their respective motivations may be different and variable. This leads to our second question.
  • Who is involved? In the receiving country, very many people may be involved in interpreting new policy or practice and in putting it into effect. Many more may be affected by the transfer and may seek to mediate, mold, or even block the innovation. Transfers typically also involve “exporters” (advisers or consultants), who will support the receiving country in implementation, but who may well have their own interests in the way in which the transfer takes place and develops. A reminder of the many individuals involved, the relationships of power among them, and their various and shifting motivations helps to counter purely structural and potentially deterministic accounts of transfer – for example, the idea of globalization – and emphasizes the place of choice and agency in penal policy (Newburn and Sparks 2004).
  • From where? Commentators have often noted the influence of the USA on penal policy in other countries, as indeed on so many other areas of social policy and on culture: globalization often seems close to Americanization (Newburn and Sparks 2004). Many of the resonant and (too) familiar crime and punishment slogans – zero tolerance, naming and shaming, three strikes and you’re out – are of American provenance, although they have now become part of the discourse of criminal justice debate in any number of countries. In Europe and in many Anglophone countries, the United Kingdom has often been influential – sometimes acting as a conduit for Canadian and American ideas, but also in its own right Dolowitz et al. (1999). Much of the research into what works with offenders was led by scholars and researchers in the USA and in Canada; adapted, developed, and applied in the UK; and then spread to other European countries. At the same time, other ideas and practices have a quite different origin: some of the principles of restorative justice and of reintegrative shaming have developed out of studies of premodern, indigenous communities and become well known through academic and practice (rather than political) networks (Braithwaite 1989).
  • What is transferred? Countries may seek to import institutions, technologies, methods, and techniques. But transfer will also introduce new concepts and meanings, ideas, ways of thinking and talking about crime and punishment, either as part of a new discourse and/or in association with new arrangements and practices. Newburn and Jones (2007) distinguish between the “hard” transfer of particular policies and the “soft” transfer of ideas, principles, and symbols: in their discussion of the spread of the idea of zero tolerance, they conclude that there is much clearer evidence for the transfer of the idea and the stance of zero tolerance than of any associated concrete policies and practices. More generally, in the early 1990s, the United Kingdom took note of the way in which the politics of crime and punishment was presented and deployed for electoral advantage in the USA, while other countries too have increasingly recognized the political gains achievable through demonstrably robust responses to matters of crime and punishment. Especially at times of insecurity and enhanced sensitivity to risk, the symbolic weight of being seen to be tough on crime has been extensively exploited in this way (Jones and Newburn 2007). This enhanced sensitivity to risk is itself an international phenomenon and has had a wide influence, leading to what has been called a “preventive turn” in the policies of many countries (Crawford 2009). Other examples include ideas about the proper place of “the market” in security or corrections and, reciprocally, the role of the state, which may also be raised when countries look for models from elsewhere.
  • To what degree? Dolowitz and colleagues (2000) distinguish different degrees of transfer – copying, emulation, a mixture of these, and inspiration (emulation differs from copying in that it implies transfer of the ideas behind, but not the details of, the policy or program). While the conceptual distinctions can be useful, in practice these differences can become conflated, and neither the intentions nor the consequences of transfer can always be confidently assigned to one “degree” rather than another.

Influences On Transfer

Countries differ from one another in many ways and these have their effects upon transfer activities. They include history and culture; the size, geography, and demography of the country; different legal traditions and their relative strength and maturity; the administration of criminal justice and the political management of its institutions; and the training and management of staff. Again, since there will always be differences between “exporting” and “receiving” countries, questions arise about the “tolerance” of these factors – how favorable or antagonistic must they be to support or to spoil transfer? At the least, a provisional identification of the factors which constitute the parameters of transfer, which shape its implementation and its prospects of success, would have to include:

  • The criminal law. It is obvious, but easily overlooked, that transferred practices have to be consistent with national law. With political support, the law may be changed, but these processes can be slow and uncertain. Many countries have criminal or penal codes that may have to be supplemented with procedural codes if they are to be put into effect. In one country in the author’s experience, the criminal code empowered the court to impose community service orders which were then to be put into effect by the designated competent authority. But no authorities had been so designated, and in the absence of such supporting procedural legislation, no community service orders could be made. Countries also differ markedly in the discretion, both in statute and in case law, that decision makers are accorded. The development of community sanctions, for example, may be thwarted by statutory requirements to impose prison sentences in particular cases.
  • Criminal justice institutions and practices. Any innovation will need to find (or, more likely, will need to make) a place for itself within existing arrangements and will inevitably impinge upon the interests of other institutions and professional groups; their response will mediate or even resist implementation.

For example, the introduction of presentence/ probation reports for the court makes (is intended to make) a difference to the sentencing process. This disturbs familiar practices and role relationships among the principal agencies, notably in jurisdictions where the prosecutor proposes the sentence to the court. The prosecution and judiciary will react variably to what may be seen as a challenge to their authority.

  • Cost. Innovations have to be affordable and criminal justice is always in competition for scarce resources. One example is imprisonment. It is commonly said that prison is more expensive than probation, but where no probation service exists, new money must be found to pay for staff, training, and infrastructure. In comparison, the marginal costs of adding other prisoners to a swollen prison population are relatively small. Meanwhile, to the (very debatable) extent that establishing community sanctions and measures will lead to a reduction in the numbers of people in prison, these gains will only be realized gradually and perhaps no more than notionally.
  • Research. Countries vary in the extent to which research is regarded as a foundation for policy or practice. Sometimes the claim is made that policy is evidence led, although such claims may be disputed, not least (though not only) because the implications of research findings are typically contested in this area. Broader political considerations and ideology, moreover, inevitably shape the interpretation of research findings so that penal policy is rarely determined by research. Even so, research may lend support to (or discourage) policy initiatives. The claim that a practice that has been shown to be effective in one country is now to be adopted can also be politically advantageous. Examples include the introduction in the UK of American strategies – zero tolerance or the broken windows approach to reducing crime (Jones and Newburn 2007) – and the “modernization” of Eastern European systems by seeking models of effective probation practice from the west of the continent (Canton 2006).

On the other hand, most research findings have been made in specific national (or, as we have seen, regional or local) contexts and may not simply be assumed to have the same significance in another country. For instance, actuarial instruments to predict rates of reconviction depend upon statistical correlations established in particular countries that may not be obtained elsewhere. Bauwens and Snacken (2010) have also drawn attention to what may be called second-hand transfer where an instrument already modified (and as it may be compromised or even distorted) has been exported again in that revised form. For example, an assessment instrument may be taken from country A, adapted by country B, and then exported in this modified form to country C. The extent to which practices – assessment instruments, offending behavior program – can be modified in this way without prejudice to their integrity is insufficiently understood and may not be taken for granted.

  • Political economy. There is a strong association between penal policy and political economy (Cavadino and Dignan 2006), and penal projects will be variably accomplished in societies with different socioeconomic structures. Even within broadly similar socioeconomic systems, there will be political variations that will mediate the transfer and can cause it to take an unexpected direction. Crime and punishment are strongly influenced by broader social policies and trends. Even if politically supported in its own terms, penal change may fail to thrive if it takes a markedly different trajectory from other policies. Desistance research is increasingly drawing attention to the importance of social capital – for example, access to employment and accommodation – in providing viable pathways out of crime; political economy influences the availability of social resources as well as their accessibility by offenders and ex-offenders. Relatedly, there are likely to be differences in the extent to which people regard crime reduction as something that the state should (or even could) achieve. The idea, for example, prominent in many western democracies, that the police are in the service of the community is not the legacy of many countries where they have been viewed with suspicion as an (often repressive) arm of government.
  • Technology and commerce. Technology is increasingly a feature of modern penality in all kinds of ways, from the processing and exchange of information to the electronic monitoring of offenders. The manner in which information is collected and processed can reciprocally influence the way in which the penal subject is understood (Aas 2004). Technological capacity and infrastructure constrain the potential of an innovation and shape its development. This consideration is linked too to commercial markets, as private enterprise becomes increasingly, though variably, involved in penal practices that have traditionally been the prerogative of the state. This has direct implications for transfer. Liberal criminologists, for example, may well be wary about net widening (Cohen 1985) – the idea that penal programs can draw in groups of offenders who had been dealt with before in less intrusive or more informal ways, but commerce in the nature of the case seeks to expand its markets and may give priority to the interests of shareholders over a wider public interest.
  • Pressure groups, networks, public opinion. Innovations need their champions and the support or opposition of a pressure group can make a critical difference to the acceptance of a new idea, as can its representation in the mass media. Policy transfer has to engage with these challenges, not least in transitional democracies, where penal developments ought to progress in step with public opinion and with proper regard for their legitimacy. At the same time, where politicians have tried to seek political gain through “talking tough” about crime and punishment, mass media may well oppose and misrepresent any innovation that appears to be liberal.
  • The ethical environment. This elusive but significant concept refers to “the surrounding climate of ideas … [that] determines what we find acceptable or unacceptable … our conception of when things are going well and when they are going badly … our conception of what is due to us, and what is due from us, as we relate to others” (Blackburn 2001, 1). The language of human rights, perhaps, as an accepted international ethical discourse, is often the way in which transferred innovations are discussed and interpreted. Even so, there are likely to be decisive differences in conceptions of the rights and duties of offenders and of victims and of the obligations of society towards them. In discussing crime prevention, Crawford comments on variation among countries in the ways in which “crime prevention strategies (seek to) embody a dynamic of social integration or exclusion” (1998, 243). He connects this with wider problems of social and economic cohesion and exclusion. Just the same observations are relevant to penal policies where societies take a variety of positions on whether punishment should be inclusive or exclusive, when (if ever) an offender should be considered an ex-offender, and what obligations (if any) the community has in this regard, as well as putative rights against them (in the name of public protection).

The list is not exhaustive and no doubt other influences could be identified. However that may be, these different factors, acting in different ways and with varying weight, make the development and outcome of transfer activity inherently unpredictable. Bluntly, what works here may not work there.

Culture And Transfer

Culture is increasingly recognized as central to an understanding of crime and punishment (Smith 2008) and is accordingly a critical variable in policy transfer and implementation. The term, however, is contested and used in a number of different ways. Garland (2006) warns that, in appropriating the term from other academic disciplines, criminology risks reproducing some of the confusions and ambiguities that prevail elsewhere. He distinguishes usefully between (1) culture as a collective entity (i.e., this culture as opposed to that, e.g., African culture contrasted with European) and (2) culture as a distinct influence in shaping penal development – that is, ““cultural” forces (or ideas, or symbols, or values, or meanings, or sentiments … {as opposed to} other kinds of entity (such as social, political, economic or criminological factors) .. .” (2006, 422). Culture is important in both senses in considering policy transfer, but the distinction is analytically valuable. A further complication is the use of the word culture – as in legal culture or court culture–where the term seems to mean not much more than tradition, habit, or the familiar way of doing things.

The claim that transfer must be culturally sensitive or culturally appropriate risks losing these distinctions. Transfer, to be sure, must take account of customary ways of doing things, but the purpose of transfer is often precisely to make changes in these respects. Transfer enterprises must assuredly take account of “the cultural” – the ideas, values, and meanings of penality. It could be said penal policies thrive or fail as much or more in the meanings they manage to convey than in their effectiveness in reducing crime (Smith 2008), and accordingly, disregard for the meanings of current practice and of the innovations that are intended to vary these meanings can vitiate transfer.

In its other sense – “this culture as opposed to that” (Garland 2006) – culture matters, but should not be seen as either insulated or static. Indeed, transfer typically occurs when a country is already exposed to other kinds of outside social, economic, and cultural influences, and its culture is consequently evolving, often rapidly. Even so, lack of sensitivity to cultural variation could constitute a form of neocolonialism or imperialism (Worrall 2000) – with prosperous countries telling relatively poorer ones how they should respond to crime – and is in any case likely to lead to failure in transfer. In this connection, the attempt to introduce community service/unpaid work into Zimbabwe as an alternative to custody is instructive. The idea that this new penalty of the court might make amends was greeted as an affirmation of restorative African traditions that had been suppressed in the first place by a “procedure dominated and prison-happy philosophy” introduced under colonialism (Stern 1999. The quotation, on page 25, is by Elufemi Odekunle). This seems an example of transfer reviving or reaffirming indigenous traditions that had been suppressed in the first place by “transfer” through colonization.

This discussion shows that while the insistence that transfer must respect culture is salutary, it is a claim that can be understood in a number of different ways. Cultural differences can (perhaps too easily) be invoked to account for some of the obstacles to transfer or to reject an initiative that some may find threatening. At one level, it is morally and practically imperative that innovation be culturally sensitive; on the other hand, the whole point of transfer is to bring about change.

Obstacles To Transfer

Among the ways in which transfer may fail is through uninformed or “unknowledgeable” transfer (Dolowitz et al. 2000). This arises from misunderstandings about the context in which innovation is to be made and/or the nature of the challenge that the transfer is intended to meet. Among the most immediate (and often persisting) problems confronting a consultant from another country, then, is trying to understand the criminal justice practices in the country accepting transfer. Difficulties here can be formidable. Most consultants may be presumed to be very knowledgeable about their own national systems, but similarities in institutions and practices can turn out to be superficial and to conceal significant differences. The temptation is to assimilate unfamiliar practices to ones with which the consultant is already familiar. Yet equally there may be “functional equivalence” (an expression, however, to be treated with care) between practices that at first sight seem very different. Consultants must therefore rely heavily upon local experts, although as Nelken warns (2000, 6), “those relied on for descriptions of the aims or results of legal reforms are themselves part of the context they are describing, in the sense of favouring one position rather than another.”

Secondly, transfer may be incomplete– although this partly depends on whether copying, emulation, or inspiration is the objective (see above) and remembering too that different actors may have different aspirations here. Thirdly, inappropriate transfers can fail because “insufficient attention may be paid to the differences between the economic, social, political and ideological contexts in the transferring and borrowing systems” (Dolowitz et al. 2000, 34). Transfer seems most likely to be successful where there is social and political affinity and/or ideological proximity between the originating and borrowing systems (Newburn 2002).

There is also the consideration that in many (perhaps most) societies, criminal justice and penal practices are not so much created as evolve under the influence of an indeterminate number of interrelated and sometimes antagonistic factors. There should be no assumptions about the internal coherence of the resulting arrangements. As Garland puts it, “Having developed as a means of managing tensions, arbitrating between conflicting forces, and getting certain necessary things done, social institutions typically contain within themselves traces of the contradictions and pluralities of interest which they seek to regulate” (Garland 1990, 282). The introduction of a new institution or practice may disturb the equilibrium. This is part of the reason, no doubt, why penal policy so frequently results in unexpected and indeed perverse outcomes: for example, attempts to provide alternatives to custody can often be associated with increases in its use. Contradictory influences, then, can distort transfer and make outcomes inherently unpredictable.

Nor should the challenges of linguistic translation be underestimated. How, for example, is a specialized (and barely even English) term like responsivity be presented to an interpreter? Again, the differences among, for example, deferred, conditional, or suspended sentences, are significant, but linguistically subtle. Importantly, too, there is the problem of what translators and interpreters refer to as faux amis – false friends – words in different languages whose apparent similarity conceals substantial differences of connotation, resonance, and even sometimes denotation. Crawford (2009) gives the example of the word community, whose false friend is communaute´. When community is rendered literally in French (la communaute´) or German (Gemeinschaft is one among a number of possible translations), other and different nuances are imported that could lead to a quite different conception of community safety, community crime prevention, community policing, or punishment in the community (see also here the seminal work of Lacey and Zedner 1995). Crawford goes on to emphasize “… the need to excavate and understand the culturally specific essence of key terms and locate them within the context of wider horizons of interpretation” (Crawford 2009, 17).

Evaluating Transfer

If the success of a transfer is to be appraised in terms of the achievement of the intended goals, the first problem in evaluating transfer is in determining the intentions of those involved, which, as we have seen, are often complex, variable and changing over time. Different actors, as we have seen, are likely to have different intentions and consequently may not agree about what would count as success.

With that reservation in mind, one way of investigating the difficulties of evaluating transfer would be to consider a specific initiative and to ask what would count as success here, what as failure. For example, suppose the attempt was being made to introduce community service/ unpaid work into a jurisdiction as part of a strategy to provide alternative sanctions to imprisonment (Canton 2006). The attempt would count as unsuccessful, presumably, if no community service orders were made by the courts. But another possibility is that orders are made, but instead of functioning as alternatives to custody (diverting people from imprisonment), they merely widen the net by drawing in offenders who would in the past have been dealt with through other and perhaps less burdensome and intrusive sanctions (this is an altogether likely consequence, as Cohen’s (1985) work shows). Even the size of the prison population would not resolve the question: a decrease could be attributable to other initiatives (reforming administrations, after all, rarely proceed on a single front), while an increase would not necessarily be a sign of failure (perhaps the increase would have been even steeper, but for the introduction of community service). Another possibility is that such community sanctions might be made in respect only of defendants who were powerful or privileged, with custody remaining for the poor. Again, there are other corruptions of transfer that can be envisaged: for instance, a scheme where unpaid work brought personal profit to individuals or commercial interests rather than providing a wider community benefit.

A further challenge is the timescale for evaluation. Some initiatives – the introduction of a new institution or system, of new legislation or changes to the powers of courts – could (at least in principle) be assessed quite quickly. But their longer-term significance, the extent to which they become “owned” and embedded in the criminal justice system, calls for an extended period of inquiry and for sophisticated methods of evaluation. In particular, the “soft transfer” (Newburn and Jones 2007) of new ideas, new ways of thinking about crime and punishment, is likely to have their effects much later on in time.

In summary, the effects of transfer should be evaluated and arguably this has not usually taken place with sufficient rigor. At the same time, evaluation poses formidable challenges–not only of determining effects, which may change over time, but of deciding on the criteria of evaluation in the first place.


Policy transfer is a topic of considerable practical importance. Whether celebrated as the dissemination of good practice and experience or denounced as the imposition of the preferences of (typically) more powerful and affluent countries upon others, transfer activity is common and only likely to increase. A principal stimulus here, which is likely to become still more compelling, is the increasing influence of supranational influences. Respect for international law and a recognition that some level of accountability to the international community is a bulwark against human rights abuses have prompted the promulgation of several treaties and conventions. These have given a mandate for supranational entities – for example, the Council of Europe – to concern themselves with the penal practices of their member states. Penal policy, in short, is no longer the sole concern of the nation state. Such developments are likely to lead to further transfer initiatives as countries wishing and/or required to change look for acceptable and effective models to copy or emulate. Another driver for transfer, as we have seen, is the claim that research can give new insights into effective practice which accordingly should be adopted everywhere – although some of the limitations and caveats to be observed have already been noted here.

Penal policy is also of great theoretical interest. Transfer projects soon expose taken–for-granted characteristics of penal practice in one’s own country. Such activities also contribute to contemporary debates in comparative criminology about international convergence and divergence. It is not that convergence should always be seen as an indication of the “success” of transfer activities: it could as well be a function of countries having to confront similar challenges and predicaments (Jones and Newburn 2007). Nor should persistent difference or divergence be taken as a sign of failed transfer, especially if the objective of transfer is taken to be the development of systems and practices that truly belong to the receiving nation and not just the copying of a practice from another place (Canton 2009). But consideration of the processes of transfer and the people involved highlights, as we have seen, the place of choice and agency in penal development to counter explanations that depend on purely structural (and sometimes excessively abstract and deterministic) accounts that invoke concepts like globalization. As Cavadino and Dignan well put it in their discussion of the influences on the character of criminal justice (2006, 452): “.. . however many factors we incorporate into our theory, it will still not give us the whole story. Individual nations, and their cultures, histories and politics, can be just as quirky and esoteric as individual human beings.”

Policy transfer could even be seen as an exercise in applied comparative criminology. The determinants of the character of penality and the drivers of change have usually been explored historically (notably Garland 1990). But transfer endeavors put these hypotheses to test and may therefore contribute to fuller and richer understandings of the complex network of influences that shape the institutions and practices of punishment.


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