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June 25, 2019

"The Opposite of Punishment: Imagining a Path to Public Redemption"

The title of this post is the title of this new short paper authored by Paul Robinson and Muhammad Sarahne. Here is its abstract:

The criminal justice system traditionally performs its public functions — condemning prohibited conduct, shaming and stigmatizing violators, promoting societal norms — through the use of negative examples: convicting and punishing violators.  One could imagine, however, that the same public functions could also be performed through the use of positive examples: publicly acknowledging and celebrating offenders who have chosen a path of atonement through confession, apology, making amends, acquiescing in just punishment, and promising future law abidingness.  An offender who takes this path arguably deserves official public recognition, an update of all records and databases to record the public redemption, and an exemption from all collateral consequences of conviction.

This essay explores how and why such a system of public redemption might be constructed, the benefits it might provide to offenders, victims, and society, and the political complications that creation of such a system might encounter.

June 25, 2019 at 04:30 PM | Permalink


Forty-two years ago I was falsely convicted of burglarizing an
office. My record is otherwise perfectly clean, before and
since. I am thankful that I was punished only for my alleged
actions, not for my refusal to confess, as this paper seems to
propose I should have been. I would be happier if everyone who
maintained a clean record for a decade after release from prison
had their conviction expunged whether they claimed redemption,
maintained their innocence, or remained silent on the issue.

Posted by: Keith Lynch | Jun 25, 2019 7:17:06 PM


Only about 25% of crimes are solved.

For property and violent offenders, there are 70-80% recidivism rates, within 9 year post release recidivism studies,with only a 25% crime clearance rate.

It would, obviously, be ill advised to clear records after 10 years.

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Jun 26, 2019 2:06:02 PM


My guess is that 100% of all convicted criminals would joyfully:

"record the(ir) public redemption and (gain) an exemption from all collateral consequences of conviction" having "chosen a path of atonement through confession, apology, making amends, acquiescing in just punishment, and promising future law abidingness."

Are academics that stupid or is the anti incarceration brigade so emboldened that they think folks are, completely, without reason?

Posted by: Dudley Sharp | Jun 26, 2019 2:15:42 PM


If there's a nine-year 70-80% recidivism rate, that's powerful
evidence that someone who has had a clean record for ten years after
release is either reformed or was innocent in the first place.
I'm not wedded to ten years specifically. Substitute however many
years after which the recidivism rate drops to the same as people the
same age who have clean records. I'm sure it's far less than the 40
years I've been out. And yet whenever there's a mass shooting, the
pundits and politicians all call for cracking down further on people
like me.

I don't know the significance of the 25% crime clearance rate, unless
it's to suggest that I might have been getting away with new crimes
over the past 40 years. But by the same reasoning, maybe someone with
a life-long clean record has been getting away with crimes. "That which
can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence."
-- Christopher Hitchens

Your guess that "100% of all convicted criminals would joyfully
'record the(ir) public redemption and (gain) an exemption from all
collateral consequences of conviction'" is obviously wrong, since I'm
a counterexample. I've always maintained my innocence, and have never
claimed to be redeemed, apologetic, or remorseful. Also, many crooks
freely admit that they don't regret anything except getting caught,
and that they'd gladly do it again if they thought they could get away
with it. But I agree with you that actions, not words, are what are
important. Anyone can claim anything. Don't expunge records and
restore rights because someone is a good actor, but because they've
maintained a clean record for years and years. Don't punish people
less for saying the right words, and don't punish people more for
saying the wrong words or for remaining silent.

Several US states already automatically expunge the records of young
first-time convicts if they maintain a clean record for several years.
Once someone has paid their debt to society, the books are balanced.
Given the thousands of DNA exonerations, and the fact that in the vast
majority of felonies there never was any DNA, and there's no reason to
thing the error rate in those cases was any lower, I don't understand
how any rational person can treat verdicts as infallible holy writ.

The criminal justice system completely lacks both the religious virtue
of humility and the scientific virtue of falsifiability.

Posted by: Keith Lynch | Jun 26, 2019 9:08:09 PM

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