The Opposite of Punishment: Imagining a Path to Public Redemption

31 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2019 Last revised: 10 May 2021

See all articles by Paul H. Robinson

Paul H. Robinson

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

Muhammad Sarahne

University of Pennsylvania

Date Written: 2021


The criminal justice system traditionally performs its public functions – condemning prohibited conduct, shaming and stigmatizing violators, promoting societal norms – through the use of negative examples: convicting and punishing violators. One could imagine, however, that the same public functions could also be performed through the use of positive examples: publicly acknowledging and celebrating offenders who have chosen a path of atonement through confession, apology, making amends, acquiescing in just punishment, and promising future law abidingness. An offender who takes this path arguably deserves official public recognition, an update of all records and databases to record the public redemption, and an exemption from all collateral consequences of conviction.

This essay explores how and why such a system of public redemption might be constructed, the benefits it might provide to offenders, victims, and society, and the political complications that creation of such a system might encounter.

Keywords: Criminal justice, reintegration, prisoner reentry, retributivism, collateral consequences, restorative justice, pardon, clemency, apology, confession, amends, atonement, repentant, remorse, deserved punishment, empirical desert, self-punishment, expungement, transitional justice, jury sentencing

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Paul H. and Sarahne, Muhammad, The Opposite of Punishment: Imagining a Path to Public Redemption (2021). Rutgers University Law Review, Vol. 73, p. 1, 2020, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 19-27, Available at SSRN: or

Paul H. Robinson (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Muhammad Sarahne

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA
United States

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