Do Offenders Deserve Proportionate Punishments?

Criminal Law and Philosophy 15 (3):463-480 (2021)
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Abstract

The aim of the paper is to investigate how retributivists should respond to the apparent tension between moral desert and proportionality in punishment. I argue that rather than attempting to show that the term ‘proportionate punishment’ refers to whatever penal treatment the offender morally deserves, retributivists should maintain two things: first, that a punishment is proportionate when it is commensurate to the seriousness of the crime; second, that offenders morally deserve proportionate punishments. This view requires adopting a local theory of desert as opposed to a holistic one. In the second part of the paper, I argue that there are indeed good reasons to adopt a local theory of desert. Once retributivism is seen through the lens of local desert, there is no obvious mistake in saying that offenders morally deserve punishments that are proportionate to the seriousness of their crimes.

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