Res Publica

, 15:377 | Cite as

Retributive Parsimony

  • Richard L. Lippke


Retributive approaches to the justification of legal punishment are often thought to place exacting and unattractive demands on state officials, requiring them to expend scarce public resources on apprehending and punishing all offenders strictly in accordance with their criminal ill deserts. Against this caricature of the theory, I argue that retributivists can urge parsimony in the use of punishment. After clarifying what parsimony consists in, I show how retributivists can urge reductions in the use of punishment in order to conserve scarce resources for other valuable social purposes, minimize the foreseeable and adverse effects of legal punishment on the innocent, and accommodate the fact that existing societies fail in numerous ways to satisfy the conditions that make retributive punishment fully justified.


Legal punishment Retributivism Parsimony Sentencing 


  1. Anderson, Jami L. 1999. Annulment retributivism: A Hegelian theory of punishment. Legal Theory 5: 363–388.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arenella, Peter. 1992. Convicting the morally blameless: reassessing the relationship between legal and moral accountability. UCLA Law Review 39: 1511–1622.Google Scholar
  3. Baithwaite, John. 1998. Restorative justice. In The handbook of crime and punishment, ed. Michael Tonry, 323–344. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Braithwaite, John, and Philip Pettit. 1998. Not just deserts: A republican theory of criminal justice. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  5. Brook, Aaron S. 1999. An analysis of modern shame punishment as an alternative to incarceration. William and Mary Law Review 40: 653–686.Google Scholar
  6. Cahill, Michael T. 2007. Retributive justice in the real world. Washington University Law Review 85: 815–870.Google Scholar
  7. Cole, David. 1999. No equal justice: Race and class in the American criminal justice system. New York: New Press.Google Scholar
  8. Currie, Elliot. 1998. Crime and punishment in America. New York: Henry Holt.Google Scholar
  9. Dolinko, David. 1991. Some thoughts about retributivism. Ethics 101: 537–559.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Duff, R.A. 1977. Psychopathy and moral understanding. American Philosophical Quarterly 14: 189–200.Google Scholar
  11. Duff, R.A. 1986. Trials and punishments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Duff, R.A. 2003. Restoration and retribution. In Restorative justice and criminal justice: Competing or reconcilable paradigms?, eds. Andrew von Hirsch, Julian V. Roberts, and Anthony Bottoms, 43–59. Oxford: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
  13. Fine, Cordelia, and Jeanette Kennett. 2004. Mental impairment, moral understanding, and criminal responsibility: Psychopathy and the purposes of punishment. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 27: 425–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Griffin, James. 1986. Well-Being: Its meaning, measurement, and moral importance. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  15. Hagan, John, and Ronit Dinovitzer. 1999. Collateral consequences of punishment for children, communities, and prisoners. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research 26: 121–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hampton, Jean. 1991. A new theory of retribution. In Liability and responsibility: New essays in law and morals, eds. R.G. Frey, and Christopher W. Morris, 377–414. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Haney, Craig. 2003. Mental health issues in long-term solitary and ‘supermax’ confinement. Crime & Delinquency 49: 124–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harris, Grant T., Tracey A. Skilling, and Marnie E. Rice. 2001. The construct of psychopathy. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research 28: 197–264.Google Scholar
  19. Hochschild, Jennifer. 1991. The politics of the estranged poor. Ethics 101: 560–578.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Husak, Douglas. 1992. Drugs and rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Husak, Douglas. 2008. Overcriminalization: The limits of criminal law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Husak, Douglas, and Peter de Marneffe. 2005. The legalization of drugs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. James, Doris J. and Lauren E. Glaze. 2006. Mental health problems of prison and jail inmates. Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Department of Justice.Google Scholar
  24. Jareborg, Nils. 1998. Why bulk discounts in multiple offense sentencing? In Fundamentals of sentencing theory, eds. Andrew Ashworth, and Martin Wasik, 129–140. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  25. Kahan, Dan. 1996. What do alternative sanctions mean? University of Chicago Law Review 63: 591–653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kant, Immanuel. 2002. The philosophy of law (trans: Hastie, W.). 194–205. Union, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange.Google Scholar
  27. Kurki, Leena, and Norval Morris. 2001. The purposes, practices, and problems of supermax prisons. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research 28: 385–424.Google Scholar
  28. Lazarus, Liora. 2004. Contrasting prisoners’ rights: A comparative examination of Germany and England. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Lippke, Richard L. 1999. Making offenders pay—for the costs of their punishment. Social Theory and Practice 25: 61–77.Google Scholar
  30. Lippke, Richard L. 2004. Against supermax. Journal of Applied Philosophy 21: 109–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lippke, Richard L. 2007. Rethinking imprisonment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Lippke, Richard L. 2008. No easy way out: Dangerous offenders and preventive detention. Law and Philosophy 27: 383–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Markel, Dan. 2001. Are shaming punishments beautifully retributive? Retributivism and the implications for the alternative sanctions debate. Vanderbilt Law Review 54: 2157–2242.Google Scholar
  34. Massaro, Toni M. 1991. Shame, culture and American criminal law. Michigan Law Review 89: 1880–1944.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Mill, J.S. 1979. Utilitarianism, ed. George Sher. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.Google Scholar
  36. Morris, Herbert. 1968. Persons and punishment. Monist 52: 475–501.Google Scholar
  37. Morris, Norval. 1982. Madness and the criminal law. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  38. Morris, Norval, and Michael Tonry. 1990. Between prison and probation: Intermediate punishments in a rational sentencing system. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Morse, Stephen. 1998. Excusing and the new excuse conditions: A legal and conceptual review. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research 23: 329–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Murphy, Jeffrey. 1972. Moral death: A Kantian essay in psychopathy. Ethics 82: 284–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Murphy, Jeffrey. 1973. Marxism and retribution. Philosophy and Public Affairs 2: 217–243.Google Scholar
  42. Nagin, Daniel S. 1998. Deterrence and incapacitation. In The handbook of crime and punishment, ed. Michael Tonry, 345–368. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Nathanson, Stephen. 1985. Does it matter if the death penalty is arbitrarily administered? Philosophy and Public Affairs 14: 149–164.Google Scholar
  44. Ryberg, Jesper. 2005. Retributivism and multiple offending. Res Publica 11: 213–233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sadurski, Wojciech. 1985. Giving desert its due. Dordrecht, Netherlands: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  46. Sher, George. 1987. Desert. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  47. Steiker, Carol S. 2005. The ethics and empirics of capital punishment: No, capital punishment is not morally required. Stanford Law Review 58: 751–789.Google Scholar
  48. Stuntz, William J. 1998. Race, class, and drugs. Columbia Law Review 98: 1795–1842.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Tonry, Michael. 1992. Proportionality, parsimony, and interchangeability of punishments. In Penal theory and penal practice, eds. R.A. Duff, S. Marshall, R.E. Dobash, and R.P. Dobash. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  50. van den Haag, Ernest. 1978. The collapse of the case against capital punishment. National Review 31: 395–407.Google Scholar
  51. van Zyl Smit, Dirk. 2001. Imprisonment today and tomorrow: International perspectives on prisoners’ rights and prison conditions, 2nd ed. The Hague: Kluwer Law International.Google Scholar
  52. von Hirsch, Andrew. 1993. Censure and sanctions. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  53. von Hirsch, Andrew, and Andrew Ashworth. 2005. Proportionate sentencing: Exploring the principles. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Walker, Nigel. 1991. Why punish: Theories of punishment reassessed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Wasik, Martin, and Andrew von Hirsch. 1994. Sect. 29 revisited: Previous convictions in sentencing. Criminal Law Review 1994: 409–418.Google Scholar
  56. Whitman, James Q. 1998. What is wrong with inflicting shame sanctions? Yale Law Journal 107: 1055–1092.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Whitman, James Q. 2003. Harsh justice: Criminal punishment and the widening divide between America and Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  58. Winick, Bruce J. 2003. A therapeutic jurisprudence analysis of sex offender registration and community notification laws. In Protecting society from sexually dangerous offenders: Law, justice, and therapy, eds. Bruce J. Winick, and John Q. La Fond, 213–229. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Zimring, Franklin E. 1998. Toward a jurisprudence of youth violence. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research 24: 477–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations