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American Punitiveness and Mass Incarceration: Psychological Perspectives on Retributive and Consequentialist Responses to Crime

Fondacaro, M.R., & O’Toole, M.J. (2015). American punitiveness and mass incarceration: Psychological perspectives on retributive and consequentialist responses to crime. New Criminal Law Review, 18, 477-509.

33 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2015 Last revised: 8 Oct 2015

Mark R. Fondacaro, J.D., Ph.D.

John Jay College - CUNY Graduate Center

Megan O'Toole

CUNY, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Date Written: June 3, 2015

Abstract

A recent National Academy of Sciences Report explored the drivers of the fourfold increase in incarceration rates in the United States and provided a firm recommendation for significant reduction in incarceration rates. Policy makers representing the entire political spectrum are now publicly airing their views on the need for reform. Although public sentiment is generally favorably disposed toward reform in the abstract, when confronted with specific examples of crime, they tend to favor more punitive, retributive responses to crime. Retributive justifications for punishment that are deeply ingrained in our culture and our legal system as well as our biological and psychological make-up are a major impediment to constructive reform efforts. However, recent advances in research across neurobiological, psychological, and social levels of analysis suggest that following our retributive impulses to guide legal decision making and criminal justice policy is not only costly and ineffective in reducing crime, but unjust and increasingly difficult to justify morally. This article will draw on a body of research anchored in social ecological models of human behavior to argue for more forward-looking, consequentialist responses to crime that aim at the individual prevention of criminal behavior in the least restrictive and most cost effective manner at both the front- and back-ends of our criminal justice system.

Keywords: Mass Incarceration, Retribution, Consequentialism, Social Ecology, Neurobiology, Psychology

JEL Classification: K14, K40, K42

Suggested Citation

Fondacaro, J.D., Ph.D., Mark R. and O'Toole, Megan, American Punitiveness and Mass Incarceration: Psychological Perspectives on Retributive and Consequentialist Responses to Crime (June 3, 2015). Fondacaro, M.R., & O’Toole, M.J. (2015). American punitiveness and mass incarceration: Psychological perspectives on retributive and consequentialist responses to crime. New Criminal Law Review, 18, 477-509.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2614406

Mark Robert Fondacaro (Contact Author)

John Jay College - CUNY Graduate Center ( email )

425 W. 59th St.
New York, NY 10019
United States
6465574503 (Phone)

Megan O'Toole

CUNY, John Jay College of Criminal Justice ( email )

695 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10021
United States

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