Social Deprivation as Tempting Fate
Criminal Law and Philosophy, Vol. 5, No. 3, pp. 277-291, October 2011
31 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2012 Last revised: 30 Sep 2013
Date Written: 2011
Two recent discussions concerning punishment of the socially deprived reach conflicting conclusions. Andrew von Hirsch and Andrew Ashworth argue that we should sympathize with the predicament of the poor and therefore mitigate their sentences. Peter Chau disputes von Hirsch and Ashworth’s conclusion, contending that having to face strong temptations is not an appropriate ground for reducing anyone’s punishment for their crimes. I argue that neither von Hirsch and Ashworth’s account nor Chau’s critique of it is persuasive. I then take up the challenge of showing why social deprivation renders punishment problematic. I contend that it establishes a perverse incentive structure that is persistent and powerful, requiring the disadvantaged to exercise self-control on an ongoing basis. Repeated acts of self-control are difficult, especially for youths whose skills at it are not yet fully developed. Also, in a variety of more and less subtle ways, social deprivation reduces the incentives for self-control and may work to stunt its development. In closing, I briefly consider the options for responding to the crimes of the chronically disadvantaged.
Keywords: social deprivation, legal punishment, temptation, self-control, mitigation
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