Book Review: Criminality and Criminal Justice in Contemporary Poland

ByCriminality and Criminal JusticeChristopher Galeczka

Konrad Buczkowski, et. al. Criminality and Criminal Justice in Contemporary Poland: Sociopolitical Perspectives (Ashgate Publishing, 2015). 208 p. Hardcover $112.46.

Criminality and Criminal Justice in Contemporary Poland is a collection of articles by professors, as well as one alumna, of the Institute for Law Studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences. The series of ten articles designated as chapters describe the philosophical views on crime and criminality of some of the authors, as well as other Polish authorities on the subject, and describe the historical and contemporary aspects of crime, the criminal justice system, and public perceptions of both in the country.

Poland is a country of significance to international and comparative legal scholars in being one of the largest countries in Central Europe, a region of nations characterized by long legacies of foreign rule, the more recent experience of a half-century of existence under Soviet-imposed Communism, and a still unfolding path of economic and political integration into pan-European institutions. As such, this work is of relevance not only to those interested in comparative criminal law, but also those interested in criminality across time and cultures, as well as the economic, social, political and cultural issues that arise in societies in transition from command to market economies and from authoritarian to liberal-democratic political systems.

Chapter 1, “Criminality Today and Tomorrow,” discusses historical and philosophical definitions of the concept of crime, as well as the ways in which crime is defined in the current Polish criminal code, with reference to defenses and mitigating circumstances (e.g., when certain acts are committed by juveniles or in self-defense), contained in the code.

Chapter 2, “The Status of Criminality in Poland since 1918”, narrates the history of Polish criminal legislation from independence through the communist era, to the present day, as well as describing rises and falls, and changed in criminal activity in the country with reference to available statistics, chiefly, the total number reported crimes and finalized convictions in a given period.

Chapter 3, “Social Change and Criminality: Mutual Relationships, Determinants, and Implications” treats the issue of social change and its effect on the level and nature of criminality. Kossowska describes the findings and conclusions of a number of criminologists concerning changes in criminal activity during several key periods of transition in 20th century Polish history, concluding with a discussion of the precipitous drop in ordinary criminal activity in many nations including in Poland, albeit delayed in comparison to elsewhere, and also with the advent of cybercrime and the unusual, un-marginalized nature of those who engage in it.

Chapter 4 examines the association between crime on one hand and socially excluded and economically marginalized groups on the other. Beginning with a discussion of the criminalization of the itinerant and unemployed in medieval Europe, the author examines how poverty and factors often accompanying poverty, such as feelings of alienation from society, alcoholism, family breakdown, living in marginalized areas often combine with opportunities to commit crime, leaving underprivileged people to be disproportionate perpetrators and victims of crime.  Chapter 5 continues by examining the difficulties faced by and failures of the Polish social welfare and public educational system in being able to effectively reduce social exclusion, and, by extension, criminal activity.

Chapter 6, “Justice and its Many Faces,” describes the views of many contemporary Polish writers on society’s proper response to those guilty of committing crimes.

Chapter 7 “Controlling Criminality” focuses on the Polish criminal justice system’s historical approaches to combating crime, with statistical data on numbers of crimes, convictions, and frequency with which various sanctions were imposed. Chapter 8 “Supervised Liberty,” focuses on one of the most frequently imposed of these sanctions, the suspended sentence, and comparing the philosophical justifications and practical success of this sanction with that of probation in the United States, United Kingdom, and similar systems elsewhere in Europe.

Chapters 9 “The Social Perception of Criminality,” and Chapter 10 “Criminality and the Media” combine to tell the story of public perception of crime and the role of the media in forming that perception, beginning with the late Communist era, typified by press censorship, and a relatively low level of certain criminal activity, and continuing on through the transition to democracy, characterized by a rise in criminal activity as well as the development of sensationalist media and a great rise in popular fear of crime. The story of a tabloid press fanning public fear of crime, as well as the sentiment of a criminal justice system that is ‘soft on crime’ despite its many punitive aspects would likely ring familiar to the ears of many American readers.

Many of the chapters of the book are written in a somewhat dense scholarly style. Citations are in APA format. The reader should note that citations to many of the graphical figures provided in the work are not provided with the figure, but rather are indicated within the text, where the particular figure is first mentioned. Sometimes chapters focus on providing numerous summaries of the opinions and findings of various other authors rather than rigorously promoting and supporting the authors own thesis.  The strength of these chapters, however, lie in providing a reader a good outline of Polish scholarship on crime and penology, and for this reason the book would fit well in an academic law library’s criminal law or comparative law collection.

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