How Psychology is Changing the Punishment Theory Debate

13 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2007

See all articles by Paul H. Robinson

Paul H. Robinson

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: January 2007


This brief essay reviews the contributions that social psychology is making the debate among criminal law theorists on the proper principle for the distribution of criminal liability and punishment. Included is a discussion of suggestions that deterrence may be ineffective as a distributive principle, that incapacitation of dangerous persons may be effective but might be more effective if pursued through a detention system distinct from the criminal justice system, and that desert as a distributive principle, ironically, might be the most effective for controlling crime.

Keywords: psychology, criminal liability, punishment, deterrence, distributive principle, incapacitation of dangerous persons, desert, crime control

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Paul H., How Psychology is Changing the Punishment Theory Debate (January 2007). U of Penn Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 07-01. Available at SSRN: or

Paul H. Robinson (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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