Cruel and Unusual Punishment

In Matthew C. Altman (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook on the Philosophy of Punishment. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 771-788 (2022)
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Abstract

The prohibition on “cruel and unusual” punishments, found in the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, has long puzzled scholars. If punishments are cruel, why is that not sufficient to prohibit them? What does “unusual” add? Scholars have also disagreed on how to understand “cruel.” Should “cruel” refer only to those things that the authors of the Constitution believed were cruel, or does it extend to those things that are actually cruel? This chapter gives an overview of these debates and describes the United States Supreme Court’s jurisprudence in the area. A concluding part takes a look at the possibility that some contemporary forms of punishment (e.g., imprisonment) are cruel and unusual, and even that punishment itself might be cruel and unusual.

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