By the Light of Virtue: Prison Rape and the Corruption of Character
47 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2006
This article addresses the problem of prison rape in the United States from a philosophical perspective. A series of prison rape "jokes" by public officials and commercial advertisers in recent years seems to celebrate the fact of prison rape, which suggests a disparity between our official conception of prison as a form of punishment in the United States - punitive primarily because of the curtailment of liberty - and the conditions that actually prevail in these institutions. After outlining the nature and scope of the problem of prison rape, the article reviews the Supreme Court's Eighth Amendment jurisprudence as it bears on the duty of corrections officials to ensure the health and safety of prison inmates. This analysis reveals that the traditional liberal rights framework is inadequate to capture the wrongness of prison rape. Specifically, the rights model fails to incorporate considerations of motive and character that seem central to any account of this phenomenon. Virtue ethics provides an alternative normative framework that adds an important dimension to our understanding of the problem of prison rape, including an assessment of the ways in which what we do (or fail to do) defines who we are.
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