Punishment and Welfare: Defending Offender’s Inclusion as Subjects of State Care

Ethics and Social Welfare 12 (2):117-132 (2018)
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Many criminal offenders come from disadvantaged backgrounds, which punishment entrenches. Criminal culpability explains some disadvantageous treatment in state-offender interactions; yet offenders remain people, and ‘some mother’s child’, in Eva Kittay’s terms. Offending behaviour neither erases needs, nor fully excuses our responsibility for offenders’ needs. Caring is demanded in principle, recognising the offender’s personhood. Supporting offenders may amplify welfare resources: equipping offenders to provide self-care; to meet caring responsibilities; and enabling offenders’ contribution to shared social life, by providing support and furthering the choices of others seeking to engage with them. The desistance paradigm (viewing desistance from offending as a process, following from an offender’s active choice in the context of stabilising social structures and personal circumstances), implies that a supportive environment may facilitate reduced recidivism. While decisions about criminal culpability need justice, we may use state resources most effectively by also including care ethics in our thinking about punishment.

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Helen Brown Coverdale
University College London