A Reparative Approach to Parole-Release Decisions
RETHINKING PUNISHMENT IN THE ERA OF MASS INCARCERATION, Chris W. Suprenant eds., 162, Routledge, 2017
28 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2018
Date Written: January 1, 2017
Scholars have argued for enhanced procedural protections at parole hearings, but for the most part without a focus on what substantive criteria ought to guide parole-release decisions. I undertake this normative project, first describing the approach to parole-release decision criteria from the perspective of four standard theories of punishment: retributive theory, deterrence theory, rehabilitation theory, and communicative theory. I argue that each of the respective criteria flowing from these theories of punishment is morally objectionable on two grounds: failure to respect the agency of prisoners, and failure to take seriously the limits of our knowledge. After setting forth these theories and the objections to which they are subject, I turn to draw lessons from how California’s parole-release system functions in practice.
Drawing on both the theoretical and practical perspectives on parole-release criteria, I argue in favor of a fundamental change. I propose a “reparative approach” that builds on aspects of restorative justice and takes seriously respect for the moral agency of prisoners, victims, and the broader political community. On this approach, people directly affected by the crime join with others at the outset of a prisoner’s sentence to deliberate and decide upon reasonably achievable criteria that the prisoner would need to meet in order to be released. At the end of the prisoner’s judicially prescribed period of incarceration, the release decision would then be a ministerial determination of whether the prisoner has in fact met the criteria that were decided upon at the outset. I leave for future work the question of whether and how such a policy could be implemented in the context of the contemporary American criminal justice system.
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