Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Unified Theory of Punishment makes "Big Ideas for the Future" report

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Research Councils UK (RCUK) Big Ideas for the Future report includes discussion of a new theory of punishment that I have been developing over the last few years. The report (and my inclusion) is noted on the Newcastle University's website here and here. It is one of four Newcastle University research projects highlighted in this report. [Links updated; update below]

RCUK Chair Rick Rylance says of the Big Ideas for the Future report: "Research has an impact on all our lives. Whether it is a breakthrough in experimental science, or an invention that makes new things possible, or a project that leads us to understand better the strengths and weaknesses of our society, research is the key to the UK’s growth, prosperity and wellbeing. Big Ideas for the Future showcases just some of the excellent research being carried out in UK universities that achieves these aims. It is vital we continue to support the talented individuals whose work makes a real difference."

The report highlights the unified theory of punishment and it is a primary contribution in my forthcoming Punishment monograph (USA  or UK) and planned Beyond Retributivism (in preparation). The theory builds off of similar attempts by Hegel and British Idealists, such as T. H. Green, Bernard Bosanquet, and James Seth, to bring together competing principles of justice into one coherent theory. I have published several essays arguing that these idealists hold strikingly similar theories of punishment. My current work develops this position further taking into account new developments in criminal justice and penal theory with the aim of influencing public policy.

The report states:

"The ways in which crime is punished has changed dramatically through the course of history. Today, punishments are more humane and consider in more detail the most effective way to punish an individual that gives justice to the victim. Research at Newcastle University is considering criminal justice policy and what the best approach to this is. Different approaches to criminal justice have conflicting aims. For example, retribution might demand we punish only the guilty to the degree of the wrongness of their act, but this could clash with deterrence because a better deterrent effect might arise from punishing more or less severely.

However the researchers at Newcastle are considering a unified theory of punishment. This would be a logical theory of punishment that accounts for the potential future dangerousness, deterrence methods, and criminal rehabilitation of offenders. These problems cut to the heart of our criminal justice public policy decision-making and should be taken into account when we decide how justice should be served. The difference in the future may be very significant not least in offering an entirely new approach to thinking about punishment, as well as a model for use in sentencing by judges and magistrates."

UPDATE: More on this on the School of Geography, Politics, and Sociology website here. Many thanks to all the messages of congratulations: I am particularly pleased by this!

UPDATE 2: The Big Ideas for the Future report notes 100 "Big Ideas" in current UK university research. Half of these projects noted at Newcastle University are conducted by members of its Newcastle Ethics, Legal, and Political Philosophy (NELPP) Group.

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