In this paper, we study the penal populism through a game-theoretical model. We assume the public choice hypothesis of criminal system bureaucrats being budget-maximizers agents, and the government as a principal intending to reduce the impacts of crime on public opinion. The government might decide to fight crime in two fronts: first by using legislation and intelligence investment to reduce crime financing; second, it might increase street level imprisonment to satisfy local demands. It is possible to show that if the crime organizations are difficult enough to fight using intelligence (or if electors do not reward these crime-fighting activities), then a punitive penal culture will emerge from the interaction between politicians and the decision of non-ideological rational judges. As a consequence, the penal populism from politicians and judges must be framed in a much broader concept of punitivism as an element of civic culture, not only in a legal or political scheme.