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Introducing Political PhilosophyA Policy-Driven Approach

Introducing Political Philosophy: A Policy-Driven Approach (1st edn)

Andrew Walton, William Abel, Elizabeth Kahn, and Tom Parr
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date: 29 September 2023

p. 15611. Prison Sentences and Punishmentlocked

p. 15611. Prison Sentences and Punishmentlocked

  • William Abel,
  • Elizabeth Kahn,
  • Tom Parr
  •  and Andrew Walton


This chapter assesses whether the state should shorten the length of prison sentences, exploring the justification for state punishment. It argues in favour of shorter prison sentences, drawing on the idea that an individual who commits a crime has a remedial duty to those they have wronged, and that one way to discharge this duty is by spending time in prison in order to deter future crime. This justification for punishment supports shorter prison sentences because the beneficial effect of longer prison sentences on crime rates is too low to justify the burdens they impose. The chapter then considers a retributivist objection, which claims that the state should favour longer prison sentences because an individual who commits a crime deserves to suffer. Concerns about retribution are unable to justify the high costs of the prison system and, more fundamentally, they provide an unattractive justification for all forms of punishment. The chapter also discusses the appeal and relevance of a communicative account of punishment, according to which the state should punish an individual who commits a crime in order to condemn their actions.

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