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Punishment and Social Injustice

Political Theory
Social Justice
Jurisprudence
P346
Goran Duus-Otterstrom
Aarhus Universitet
Andrei Poama
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden
Andrei Poama
Departments of Political Science and Public Administration, Universiteit Leiden

Saturday 14:00 - 15:40 (10/09/2016)

Building: Faculty of Arts Floor: 3 Room: FA301

Abstract

Social injustice issues constantly confront the practice of state punishment, and yet the relationship between the two is far from clear and its normative significance is still open to disagreement. This panel brings together political and legal theorists in order to examine the connection (or lack thereof) between social injustice and the justification of punishment. The contemporary debate about the relationship between punishment and social injustice seems to oppose two positions. On the one side, there are those who hold that social injustice should shape and, at times, determine how or whether penal sanctions are being enforced. Thus, some authors argue that unfairly disadvantaged lawbreakers should receive lesser punishments for the same crimes. This is because certain kinds of deprivation make the offender either less accountable or less blameworthy for his or her actions. Others argue, more fundamentally, that social injustice undermines the state’s moral standing to punish. One popular defence of this view consists in claiming that sufficiently severe social injustice knocks out political obligations. The state only has a right to punish a lawbreaker if he or she was under a political obligation to obey the law, and this obligation is undermined when the state tolerates or endorses social injustice. However, critics hold that mitigated (or no) punishments for disadvantaged offenders will ultimately be bad for the disadvantaged. Also, there are those who argue that even though very severe injustice does take away the state’s right to punish, situations in real-world polities are seldom bad enough to fall in that category. Still others maintain that progressively-minded academics make a category mistake in bringing considerations of social justice to bear directly on the operations of the criminal justice system. It is more appropriate, these critics hold, to think of the criminal justice system as a mutually beneficial subset of the institutional structure of society; one that is free-standing from the distribution of wealth and income and characterized by strong norms of formal equality and reciprocity. Social injustice is to be combatted through democratic politics, not in the courtroom. The purpose of this panel is to assess the terms of the normative disagreement about the relationship between penal practice and social injustice. The papers explore different challenges that social injustice, broadly conceived, presents for the state’s right to punish. Issues raised here include whether a state that tolerates social injustice may authoritatively censure the disadvantaged, or indeed the advantaged; and whether the state has a right to punish crimes that push the distribution of wealth and income in a more just direction as a matter of corrective justice. Other issues raised relate to how social injustice affects how the state goes about punishing offenders. Of particular concern here is that even-handed infliction of punishment may create or exacerbate injustice by ignoring pre-existing patterns of structural disadvantage or by disrupting relationships between dependents and caretakers.

Title Details
Law Enforcement in an Unjust Society View Paper Details
Unjust States: Punisher Relativity and the Limits of Criminal Law View Paper Details
Distributive Injustice and the Right to Punish View Paper Details
Can Impartial Proportionality in Criminal Punishment avoid Structural Injustice? View Paper Details
Parental imprisonment, Social injustice, and the Right to Punish View Paper Details