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Happiness and Punishment


John Bronsteen


Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Christopher J. Buccafusco


Illinois Institute of Technology - Chicago-Kent College of Law

Jonathan S. Masur


University of Chicago - Law School


University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 76, 2009
U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 424
U of Chicago, Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper No. 230
U Illinois Law & Economics Research Paper No. LE08-029
Chicago-Kent Intellectual Property, Science & Technology Research Paper No. 10-024

Abstract:     
This article continues our project to apply groundbreaking new literature on the behavioral psychology of human happiness to some of the most deeply analyzed questions in law. Here we explain that the new psychological understandings of happiness interact in startling ways with the leading theories of criminal punishment. Punishment theorists, both retributivist and utilitarian, have failed to account for human beings' ability to adapt to changed circumstances, including fines and (surprisingly) imprisonment. At the same time, these theorists have largely ignored the severe hedonic losses brought about by the post-prison social and economic deprivations (unemployment, divorce, and disease) caused by even short periods of incarceration. These twin phenomena significantly disrupt efforts to attain proportionality between crime and punishment and to achieve effective marginal deterrence. Hedonic psychology thus threatens to upend conventional conceptions of punishment and requires retributivists and utilitarians to find novel methods of calibrating traditional punitive sanctions if they are to maintain the foundations upon which punishment theory rests.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 48

Keywords: punishment, utilitarian, retributivist, happiness, prison, health, deterrence, unemployment

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Date posted: August 22, 2008 ; Last revised: January 19, 2010

Suggested Citation

Bronsteen, John and Buccafusco, Christopher J. and Masur, Jonathan S., Happiness and Punishment. University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 76, 2009; U of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 424; U of Chicago, Public Law and Legal Theory Working Paper No. 230; U Illinois Law & Economics Research Paper No. LE08-029; Chicago-Kent Intellectual Property, Science & Technology Research Paper No. 10-024. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1241008

Contact Information

John Bronsteen
Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-654-1511 (Phone)
312-915-7201 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.luc.edu/law/faculty/bronsteen.shtml

Christopher J. Buccafusco
Illinois Institute of Technology - Chicago-Kent College of Law ( email )
565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States
312-906-5163 (Phone)

Jonathan S. Masur (Contact Author)
University of Chicago - Law School ( email )
1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773.702.5188 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.uchicago.edu/faculty/masur/
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