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At any rate, in the effort to explain differences in the harshness of criminal punishment from society to society, Sorokin formulated his rather clumsily named “law of ethnojuridical heterogeneity,” which held that more heterogeneous societies tend to punish more harshly (Sorokin 1962). However we formulate it, the fundamental approach of Sorokin has an obvious appeal: It is indeed possible that the harshness of criminal punishment in a given society depends in some way on the degree of heterogeneity in the population.

Our literature does offer some analytic tools that could be employed by comparatists to shed new light on differences in harshness. In particular, in this section, I suggest four promising avenues of investigation: First, that harshness in criminal punishment can be correlated with the relative heterogeneity of a given society; second, that it can be correlated with religious traditions; third, that it can be correlated with patterns of political economy; and fourth, that it can be correlated with patterns of social hierarchy.

There are comparative studies of the treatment of intoxicants and prostitution, for example. Beyond morals offenses, however, there are numerous neglected topics that deserve careful study. Take the treatment of nonviolent property offenses. Such offenses are generally no longer subject to imprisonment in Western European countries, whereas in the United States the imprisonment of property offenders has contributed considerably to high comparative incarceration rates. What explains the difference in attitude?

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