Prof. Michael Tonry

External Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society

Curriculum Vitae

Michael Tonry was formerly professor of law and public policy and director of the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University and held long-term appointments at the Universities of Minnesota and Lausanne and the Netherlands Insti­tute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement. He has written books on racial issues (Malign Neglect [OUP 1995], Punishing Race [OUP 2011]), American sentencing policy (Sentencing Matters [OUP 1996], Sentencing Fragments [OUP 2016]), crime control policy (Thinking about Crime: Sense and Sensibility in American Penal Culture [OUP 2004] and Pun­ish­ment and Politics: Evidence and Emulation in the Making of English Crime Control Policy [Willan 2004]), and pun­ish­ment philosophy (Retributivism has a Past. Has It a Future? [OUP 2011], and Doing Justice, Preventing Crime [OUP 2020]). He founded and continues to edit Crime and Justice—A Review of Research and is the founder and series editor of Oxford University Press’s Studies in Crime and Public Policy and Oxford Handbooks in Criminology and Criminal Justice.


  • 2010: Ph.D. (h.c.), Free University Amsterdam
  • 1969: LL.B., Yale Law School
  • 1966: A.B., history, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Guggenheim Fellowship

Tonry recently received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. His project, “The Influence of the Frontier on American Criminal Justice and Violence,” examines the effects of three centuries of western expansion on American criminal justice and the country’s exceptional proclivity for violence. Influential historians argue that the frontier experience fostered American values of self-sufficiency, individualism, localism, resistance to taxes, nativism, and resentment of outsiders. It also fostered fatalistic acceptance of human suffering as an inevitable but acceptable cost of material progress. Tonry intends to show how and why the frontier experience interacted with the histories of race relations, Evangelical Protestantism, and the nineteenth century movement to elect judges and prosecutors to make American criminal justice systems the harshest, most inhumane, and most disrespectful of human dignity in the Western world.  He intends also to show that frontier values and America’s history of troubled race relations explain its high homicide, gun violence, and police killings rates, its incomparably severe punishment policies, and its retention—rare among developed countries—of corporal punishment of children.

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