Beyond Experience: Getting Retributive Justice Right
24 Pages Posted: 14 Jan 2011 Last revised: 26 Jan 2012
Date Written: January 13, 2011
How central should hedonic adaptation be to the establishment of sentencing policy?
In earlier work, Professors Bronsteen, Buccafusco, and Masur (BBM) drew some normative significance from the psychological studies of adaptability for punishment policy. In particular, they argued that retributivists and utilitarians alike are obliged on pain of inconsistency to take account of the fact that most prisoners, most of the time, adapt to imprisonment in fairly short order, and therefore suffer much less than most of us would expect. They also argued that ex-prisoners don't adapt well upon re-entry to society and that social planners should consider their post-release experiences as part of the suffering the state imposes as punishment.
In subsequent articles, we challenged BBM’s arguments (principally from the perspective of retributive justice) -- see below for SSRN links. The fundamental issue between BBM and us is whether "punishment" should be defined, measured, and justified according to the subjective negative experiences of those who are punished, an approach we refer to as "subjectivism," or whether the more compelling approach is to define and justify punishment, more or less, in objective terms such that the amount need not vary based on experiences of offenders alone.
In their responsive essay, "Retribution and the Experience of Punishment," BBM responded to our challenges. This essay of ours now assesses the impact of their responses, again from the perspective of retributive justice. We remain unpersuaded by their conceptual and normative responses. We also use this essay to explain further the wrong turns associated with BBM's decision to endorse subjectivist concerns as the principal measure and justification for the infliction of retributive punishment.
Markel and Flanders, Bentham on Stilts: The Bare Relevance of Subjectivity to Retributive Punishment, http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1587886
Gray, Punishment as Suffering, http://ssrn.com/abstract=1573600
BBM, Retribution and the Experience of Punishment, http://ssrn.com/abstract=1692921
Keywords: retributive justice, hedonic adaptation, punishment, criminal law, sentencing
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