Drawing on both empirical evidence and philosophical literature, this book argues that the harm done by punishing criminal offenders is ultimately morally unjustified. Asserting that punishment inflicts both intended and unintended harms on offenders, Golash suggests that crime can be reduced by addressing social problems correlated with high crime rates, such as income inequality and local social disorganization. Punishment may reduce crime, but in so doing, causes a comparable amount of harm to offenders. Instead, Golash suggests, we should address criminal acts through trial, conviction, and compensation to the victim, while also providing the criminal with the opportunity to reconcile with society through morally good action rather than punishment.
Contending that the theory and practice of punishment are inherently linked, Tunick draws on a broad range of thinkers, from the radical criticisms of Nietzsche, Foucault, and some Marxist theorists through the sociological theories of Durkheim and Girard to various philosophical traditions and the "law and economics" movement. He defends punishment against its radical critics and offers a version of retribution, distinct from revenge, that holds that we punish not to deter or reform, but to mete out just deserts, vindicate right, and express society's righteous anger. Demonstrating first how this theory best accounts for how punishment is carried out, he then provides "immanent criticism" of certain features of our practice that don't accord with the retributive principle.
Thought-provoking and deftly argued, Punishment will garner attention and spark debate among political theorists, philosophers, legal scholars, sociologists, and criminologists.