Qualities of Mercy: Justice, Punishment, and Discretion

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Carolyn Strange
UBC Press, Nov 1, 2011 - Law - 198 pages

Qualities of Mercy deals with the history of mercy, the remittance of punishments in the criminal law. The writers probe the discretionary use of power and inquire how it has been exercised to spare convicted criminals from the full might of the law. Drawing on the history of England, Canada, and Australia in periods when both capital and corporal punishment were still practised, they show that contrary to common assumptions the past was not a time of unmitigated terror and they ask what inspired restraint in punishment. They conclude that the ability to decide who lived and died -- through the exercise or denial of mercy -- reinforced the power structure.

The essays are an important contribution to current public policy debates. If today's move towards unyielding and harsher punishment proceeds, including campaigns to reinstate capital punishment, mercy alone will fail to neutralize the inequities of criminal justice. Only profound cultural shifts and transitions of sensibility have the force to stem the tide of unprecedented punitiveness.

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Collection of essays concerning punishment and mercy in Great Britain, USA, Canada, and Australia. Read full review


The Decline of Physical Punishment in London 17601840
Transportation Penal Practices and the English State 17701830
The Politics of Pardons and the Upper Canada Rebellion
Native Culture and the Modification of Capital Punishment in NineteenthCentury British Columbia
Political Culture and the Death Penalty in New South Wales and Ontario 18901920
An Afterword
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About the author (2011)

Carolyn Strange teaches at the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Toronto's Girl Problem: The Perils and Pleasures of the City, 1880-1930.

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