Reconciling Punishment and Forgiveness in Criminal Justice

admin - 11th June 2014

Professor Nicola Lacey and Dr Hanna Pickard will be presenting a joint working paper entitled “To Blame or to Forgive? Reconciling Punishment and Forgiveness in Criminal Justice.” This will be followed by a Q and A session, led by Professor John Gardner.



Date – 13 June

Time – 5:00pm

Venue – Lady Brodie Room, St. Hilda’s College



What do you do when faced with wrongdoing – do you blame or do you forgive? When confronted with crime, especially offenses that lie on the more severe end of the spectrum and cause victims terrible psychological or physical trauma or death, nothing can feel more natural than blame. Indeed, in the UK and the US, increasingly vehement and righteous public expressions of blame and calls for vengeance have become commonplace in wider society; correspondingly, contemporary penal philosophy has witnessed a resurgence of the retributive tradition, in the modern form usually known as the ‘just deserts’ or ‘justice’ model. On the other hand, people can and routinely do forgive others, even in cases of severe crime. Evolutionary psychologists argue that both vengeance and forgiveness are universal human adaptations that have evolved as alternative responses to exploitation, and, crucially, strategies for reducing the risk of future re-offending. We are naturally endowed with both capacities:  to blame and retaliate, or to forgive and seek to repair relations. We have a choice. Which should we choose? Drawing on evolutionary psychology, we offer an account of forgiveness and argue that the choice to blame, and not to forgive, is both instrumentally counter-productive to reducing the risk of future re-offending and inconsistent with the basic, political values of a broadly liberal society. We then sketch the shape of penal philosophy and criminal justice policy and practice with forgiveness in place as a guiding ideal, and suggest some broader social and institutional arrangements that may foster it.

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