Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type



Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Thomas Janoski


This dissertation offers an explanation of cross national incarceration rate variation for 17 industrialized countries for the second half of the 20th century. Both historical case studies and time-series cross-section analyses are used to provide an institutional explanation of incarceration rate differences. Borrowing from Weber’s Sociology of Law and comparative legal scholarship, it is suggested that three types of legal thinking exist among western democracies—Common, Romano-Germanic, and Nordic law. A regime approach commonly applied in political economic explanations of welfare state development is used to quantify the legal and criminal justice institutional differences between 1960 and 2002 to assert that there are ‘three worlds of western punishment’ in the post-War period. The countries used in this analysis are similar in numerous ways, but historically embedded legal differences have resulted in different trial structures, judge-attorney relationships, rules of criminal evidence, and lay participation that influence the amount of incarceration in each country. The historical case studies demonstrate how important events set countries on particular developmental paths such as the power of defense attorneys in common law, despite their original exclusion from trials; the choice of scientific legal principles as a basis for an objective law blending Roman and Germanic legal principles; and the Nordic’s amalgamation of common and Romano-Germanic legal principles. These legal institutions are complimented by political economic variables that suggest that the presence of more left leaning political parties, centralization of wage bargaining, and labor organization provide a further break on the drive to incarcerate. The quantitative findings support the legal regime approach as well as political economic variables while controlling for crime and homicide rates.



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