Philosophers Form New “Justice Without Retribution Network”

Philosophers Form New “Justice Without Retribution Network”


There’s a new project to bring philosophy to bear on policy issues. In this case it is free will skepticism and criminal justice.

Gregg Caruso (SUNY Corning), Farah Focquaert (Ghent), Derk Pereboom (Cornell), and Elizabeth Shaw (Aberdeen) have formed the Justice Without Retribution Network.

The Justice Without Retribution Network (JWRN) will bring together researchers from law, philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience, from a range of jurisdictions. The Network will explore the practical implications of free will scepticism for the criminal justice system. It will consider whether non-retributive approaches to criminal behaviour that do not rely on a traditional understanding of free will can be ethically defensible and practically workable.

In a column at Psychology Today, Professor Caruso elaborates:

Free will skepticism maintains that what we do, and the way we are, is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control and because of this we are never morally responsible for our actions in the basic desert sense—the sense that would make us truly deserving of praise and blame.

Free will skepticism stands opposed to the retributivism that underlies many of our attitudes and practices related to criminal justice. Caruso writes:

While there are many reasonable retributivists who acknowledge that we imprison far too many people, in far too harsh conditions, retributivism nonetheless remains committed to the core belief that criminals deserve to be punished and suffer for the harms they have caused. This retributive impulse in actual practice often leads to practices and policies that try to make life in prison as unpleasant as possible. It was this retributive impulse, for instance, that was recently behind the effort in England and Wales to create a blanket ban on sending books to prisoners. Luckily, the high court declared the book ban unlawful, reasoning that books are often essential to the rehabilitation of criminals. It is also this retributive impulse that has lead, at least in part, to the mass incarceration crisis in the United States.

The number of people incarcerated in the US is staggering. With only five percent of the world’s population, the United States imprisons twenty-five percent of the world’s prisoners—far more than any other nation in the world…. And not only does the US imprison at a much higher rate, it also imprisons in notoriously harsh conditions. American supermax prisons are often cruel places, using a number of harsh forms of punishment including extended solitary confinement. The watchdog organization Solitary Watch estimates that up to 80,000 people in the US are currently in some form of solitary confinement. These prisoners are isolated in windowless, soundproof cubicles for 23 to 24 hours each day, sometimes for decades. Such excessively punitive punishment not only causes severe suffering and serious psychological problems, it does nothing to rehabilitate prisoners nor does it reduce the rate of recidivism.

For more information about the network, contact one of its organizers.

(image: aerial photos of U.S. correctional facilities, via Google, arranged by Josh Begley)

prisons aerial photos copy

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