Punishment and Human Dignity: Sentencing Principles for Twenty-First Century America

47 Crime and Justice, 2018 Forthcoming

50 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2018  

Michael Tonry

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law

Date Written: January 3, 2018

Abstract

A new conception of justice in punishment is needed that is premised on respect for offenders’ human dignity. It needs to acknowledge retributive and utilitarian values and incorporate independently important values of fairness and equal treatment. Punishment principles, policies, and practices lined up nicely in mid-twentieth century America. Utilitarian principles implied a primary goal of crime prevention through rehabilitation and avoidance of unnecessary suffering by offenders. Judges and parole boards were empowered to tailor decisions to fit offenders’ circumstances and interests. Corrections officials sought to address rehabilitative needs and facilitate achievement of successful, law-abiding lives. The system often did not work as it should, but its ideals, aspirations, and aims were clear. In our time, there are no commonly shared principles, sentencing laws and practices are unprecedentedly rigid and severe, judges and parole boards often lack authority to make sensible or just decisions, corrections officials are expected simultaneously to act as police officers, actuaries, and social workers, and injustice is ubiquitous.

Keywords: punishment, human dignity, treatment as an equal, parsimony, Kant, Bentham

Suggested Citation

Tonry, Michael, Punishment and Human Dignity: Sentencing Principles for Twenty-First Century America (January 3, 2018). 47 Crime and Justice, 2018 Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3159998

Michael Tonry (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities - School of Law ( email )

229-19th Avenue South
Minneapolis, MN 55455
United States

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