Retributivism Has a Past: Has It a Future?

Retributivism Has a Past: Has It a Future?

by Michael Tonry
     
 

For nearly two centuries in the United States, the punishment of crime was largely aimed, in theory and in practice, at prevention, rehabilitation or incapacitation, and deterrence. In the mid-1970s, a sharp-and some argued permanent-shift occurred. Punishment in the criminal justice system became first and foremost about retribution. Retribution trumped

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Overview

For nearly two centuries in the United States, the punishment of crime was largely aimed, in theory and in practice, at prevention, rehabilitation or incapacitation, and deterrence. In the mid-1970s, a sharp-and some argued permanent-shift occurred. Punishment in the criminal justice system became first and foremost about retribution. Retribution trumped rehabilitation; proportionality outweighed prevention. The retributivist sea change was short-lived, however. After a few decades, some policy makers returned tentatively to individualized approaches to punishment, launching initiatives like drug courts and programs for treatment and reentry. Others promoted policies that retained the rhetoric but betrayed the theory-punishment in proportion to culpability-of retributivism, resulting in mandatory minimum sentences, three-strikes-and-you're-out laws, "dangerous offender" and "sexual predator" laws, "truth in sentencing," and life without the possibility of parole.

What now for retributivism?

Retributivism Has a Past: Has It a Future? brings thoughtfulness and rigor back into the retributivism debate. This collection of essays trains some of the most influential and brightest established and up-and-coming legal and philosophical minds on how retributivism does, might, or should affect contemporary policy and practices. The volume's aim is neither to condemn nor to justify, but to take new policies and practices seriously and examine them closely.

At a time when criminal-justice policy makers are forced to reconsider contemporary approaches to punishment and attempt to devise new ones, Retributivism Has a Past: Has It a Future? offers serious theoretical critiques of the recent past and justifications for possible futures.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Writings on theories of punishment are legion, but this volume has a distinct freshness—a group of top international scholars with varying perspectives have been encouraged to explore the interfaces between philosophies of punishment and contemporary penal practices. Nothing is taken for granted. Drug courts, 'three strikes and you're out' laws, and sentences lengthened for public protection are all vital issues of public policy that receive scrutiny in this volume. While the title of the volume refers to retributivism, the essays themselves are not confined to discussions of the future of desert theory: they explore the future place of restorative justice, incapacitation and other rationales, and examine challenges to the basic tenets of desert theory. The intellectual freshness of this volume should make it a focus of study and argument for years to come."
—Andrew Ashworth, Vinerian Professor of English Law, University of Oxford

"Retributivism Has a Past is an important book that both reconsiders the past and may well reconfigure the future of criminal punishment. Michael Tonry's grand introductory essay examines retributivism's resurgence in light of actual practices, especially in the United States. Each of the essays by other major figures in punishment theory, law, and philosophy critically examines a variety of theories of punishment, old and new. Many of the essays, including several by prominent younger contributors to these debates, engage contemporary theories and concepts of restorative justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, rehabilitation of offenders, and mandatory punishments. Most newer approaches are difficult to reconcile, both in theory and in practice, with retributive understandings of criminal justice."
—Kate Stith, Lafayette S. Foster Professor, Yale Law School

"...an important discussion of retributivism, both [in] theory and practice. It is a must read for punishment theorists. The discussion of both theoretical and practical features of retributivism gives the book a wider scope than the philosophical literature and this is a welcome development." — Stephen Kershnar, Journal of Moral Philosophy

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199798278
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
12/12/2011
Series:
Studies in Penal Theory and Philosophy Series
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Michael Tonry is Professor of Law and Public Policy, University of Minnesota Law School, and Senior Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, Free University Amsterdam.

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