Punishing Them All: How Criminal Justice Should Account for Mass Incarceration

Res Philosophica 97 (2):185-218 (2020)
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Abstract

The piece returns to my earlier challenges of retributivism as the basis of contemporary criminal law, advancing my work on republican political justifications that make central the effect of punishment on citizenship. In short, the justification of punishment should eschew individual retributivist “desert” and focus primarily on the effects of punishment on the entire polity. In particular, this would mean that the effects of mass incarceration would be explicitly a part of justification of punishment. Concretized, members of communities where widespread punishment (incarceration) has damaged collective civic health should explicitly receive discounts on otherwise “retributively justified” punishment. Most obviously, a regime focused on the effect of punishment on civic bonds would explicitly target the vast racial disparities in contemporary punishment regimes, grounding an explicit claim that an African-American or Hispanic defendant from overly punished communities should be punished less and requiring other state resources to secure the safety of the community. While critical, this regime is not solely aimed at racial disparities. This principle would equally address the concentration of punishment in poor, white communities often battered by punishment and policing. Thus, the policy shows a way of building allies across racial lines.

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