Revocation and Retribution
67 Pages Posted:
Date Written: February 15, 2021
Revocation of community supervision is a defining feature of American criminal law. Nearly 4.5 million people in the United States are on parole, probation, or supervised release, and one-third will eventually have their supervision revoked, sending 350,000 to prison each year. While scholars have long debated the reasons for punishing criminal conduct, however, no one has considered the justifications for revoking community supervision.
This Article is the first to apply punishment theory to revocation of community supervision, focusing on the federal system of supervised release. Federal courts apply a primarily retributive theory of revocation, aiming to punish defendants for their “breach of trust.” Yet the structure, statute, and purpose of supervised release all reflect purely utilitarian goals of deterrence and incapacitation. Although scholars traditionally view courts as the institution most likely to defend criminal defendants against the state, the federal courts have played a key role in expanding the power to punish through the retributive theory of revocation.
Keywords: criminal law, criminal procedure, sentencing, community supervision
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