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June 4, 2008

Interesting piece on sentencing history (and theory)

After spending the day dealing with some frustrating realities of current federal sentencing, this historical paper appearing on SSRN is just the kind of change of pace my sentencing brain needs.  The piece is titled "Rehabilitating Durkheim: Social Solidarity and Rehabilitation in Eastern State Penitentiary, 1829-1850" and here is the abstract:

Durkheim famously postulated that crime tears at the moral fabric of society and that punishment was the means by which society strengthened its solidarity: by condemning the criminal and his criminal act, society reminds itself that there is still great consensus surrounding the values it holds dear, those values which it has enshrined in the criminal law. However, the more a society advanced, he argued, the less intense its punishments would become, and the more its punishments would become based solely on the privations of certain rights.  But Durkheim did not speak to purposes of punishment (e.g., rehabilitation, incapacitation, deterrence) except retribution.

This study describes the relationship between penal rehabilitation and Durkheim's concept of social solidarity by examining the writings of certain Pennsylvanians who were involved in the creation and maintenance of the Eastern State Penitentiary between 1829 and 1850. Specifically, it seeks to answer two questions: (1) How does rehabilitation affect (strengthen, weaken, or not affect) social solidarity? and (2) What circumstances lead a society to choose rehabilitation over other methods or purposes of punishment?  This study argues that penal rehabilitation strengthens social solidarity through its negative and positive expressive statements and results in solidarity-generating and solidarity-enhancing effects.  This study also offers a framework for what conditions lead a society to choose rehabilitation, conditions that lead a society to be optimistic instead of pessimistic.  It closes with suggestions for future work in this area.

June 4, 2008 at 08:21 PM | Permalink


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