Time and Retribution
Retributivists believe that punishment can be deserved, and that deserved punishment is intrinsically good or important. They also believe that certain crimes deserve certain quantities of punishment. On the plausible assumption that the overall amount of any given punishment is a function of its severity and duration, we might think that retributivists (qua retributivists) would be indifferent as to whether a punishment were long and light or short and sharp, provided the offender gets the overall amount of punishment he deserves. In this paper I argue against this, showing that retributivists should actually prefer shorter and more severe punishments to longer, gentler options. I show this by focusing on, and developing a series of interpretations of, the retributivist claim that not punishing the guilty is bad, focusing on the relationship between that badness and time. I then show that each interpretation leads to a preference for shorter over longer punishment.
KeywordsSevere Punishment Harsh Punishment State Punishment Retributive Justice Luck Egalitarianism
I first began to think about these issues when employed by the AHRC-funded Preventive Justice project at the University of Oxford (ID: AH/H015655/1), which I worked on with Andrew Ashworth and Lucia Zedner. I am grateful to the AHRC for funding the project, and to Andrew and Lucia for the opportunity to participate in it, for the crash course in criminal law theory, and for comments on the present paper. I have also benefited from written comments from Saul Smilansky and discussion with Oxford’s Jurisprudence Discussion Group and Department of Politics and International Relations. I am most grateful to three anonymous reviewers for extensive comments.
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Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author(s) and the source are credited.