Philosophical Books 45 (4):324-334 (2004)

Christopher Bennett
Ryerson University
How can a state be morally justified in punishing some of its citizens? In tackling this I shall set aside three important matters: we do not morally approve of all the laws of the land, so that sometimes there is a legal but not a moral case against an offender; we can do more things about crime than just punish the criminals, for example remedying the familial and social conditions that encourage it; and, thirdly, many actual penal institutions do things to convicts that are indefensible by any decent standard. My topic may be humanly less important than any of those three; but I want to discuss it and not them. Like many others, I hold that the punishment is justified only to the extent that it does good, that is, leads to a better over-all state of affairs than would have obtained otherwise. Some versions of this view, however, assign to doing-good a role in which it swamps other considerations which most of us think are also essential to a defensible penal system. My aim in this paper will be remedy this defect - to reconcile a doing-good justification with the rest of what we think about punishment. The fear that this cannot be done has led some to question whether our having penal systems and procedures does any good. Jacobs may be right in stressing how hard it is to discover what the consequences are of any given system of punishment (1999: 540), but it would be lamentable if that led us to omit doing-good from our view of what justifies punishment. I shall return to this topic at the end of Section 7, offering to relieve Jacobs of his fears. I usually think of the good that punishment can do in terms of the deterrence of potential offenders - the punished person or others who learn about his punishment. In all the uncertainty about what our penal procedures achieve, it seems certain that they have a deterrent effect without which our society would be lost. There are other possible goods: making the convict a better person; placating victims and their kin; increasing our sense of the majesty and importance of the law; and so on..
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DOI 10.1111/j.1468-0149.2004.00357.x
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Punishing with Care: Treating Offenders as Equal Persons in Criminal Punishment.Helen Brown Coverdale - 2013 - Dissertation, The London School of Economics and Political Science

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