Retributivism and Overpunishment

22 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2020

See all articles by Douglas Husak

Douglas Husak

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Department of Philosophy

Date Written: September 26, 2020


I argue that a retributive penal philosophy should not be blamed for contributing to our present epidemic of mass incarceration and tendency to over-punish. My paper has three parts. In the first, I make a number of conceptual points about the nature of retributivism that reveal it to have the resources to combat our current crisis. In the second part, I construct desert-based arguments for decriminalizing some offenses that have led too many persons to be punished. In the third part, I suggest that desert favors an expansion in the scope and number of defenses that have the potential to retard the severity of punishment. If my arguments are sound, retributivism should be regarded as part of the solution to our predicament rather than its cause.

Keywords: retributivism, punishment, offenses, defenses

Suggested Citation

Husak, Douglas N., Retributivism and Overpunishment (September 26, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Douglas N. Husak (Contact Author)

Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey - Department of Philosophy ( email )

106 Somerset Street, 5th Floor
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
United States

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