Revising Wolff's support for retribution as a justification for punishment: desistance, rehabilitation and resorting the status of victim and offender

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    Abstract

    The philosopher Jonathan Wolff has recently supported retribution as a justification for punishment in his book Ethics and Public Policy: A Philosophical Enquiry (EPP). His main argument is that the victim's status and self-respect has been undermined by a crime committed against her, and the offender, in the process, is effectively stating he is above the law and societal norms and that he has no regard for the victim. Punishment is therefore responding to both these social violations and acts as a communicative mechanism to both offender and victim, restoring the status of the latter by punishing the former. This paper defends Wolff's main idea supporting retribution, in certain clearly defined cases, but his position needs supplementing. First, when examining the practice of the criminal justice system, we claim that punishment is a necessary but not sufficient condition for restoring the status of the victim. Secondly, any re-balancing of status should occur, not only between the offender and the victim, but also between the offender and wider society - the latter acknowledging the social responsibility of ensuring that marginalised members of society (including many offenders) are not socially excluded, and so are helped or assisted in becoming socially included. We further argue that this latter outcome is best achieved via a process of desistance, which assumes that although individuals have an idiosyncratic journey to becoming a 'non-offender', all involve developing socio-economic capital that the individual does not want to place in jeopardy by reoffending.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationN/A
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Mar 2014
    Event The Howard League Penal Reform conference ‘What is Justice? Re-imagining Penal Policy’ University of Oxford, September 2013 - Location unknown - please update
    Duration: 1 Jan 19901 Jan 1990

    Conference

    Conference The Howard League Penal Reform conference ‘What is Justice? Re-imagining Penal Policy’ University of Oxford, September 2013
    Period1/01/901/01/90

    Keywords

    • theories of punishment
    • retribution
    • desistance
    • rehabilitation
    • probation service
    • applied philosophy

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