What's Wrong with Differential Punishment?

Utilitas 29 (3):257-285 (2017)
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Half of the drug offenders incarcerated in the United States are black, even though whites and blacks use and sell drugs at the same rate, and blacks make up only 13 percent of the population. Noncomparativists about retributive justice see nothing wrong with this picture; for them, an offender’s desert is insensitive to facts about other offenders. By contrast, comparativists about retributive justice assert that facts about others can partially determine an offender’s desert. Not surprisingly, comparativists, especially comparative egalitarians, contend that differential punishment is retributively unjust. I agree with this assessment, but take issue with the reasons egalitarians cite in its favor. In this paper, I argue that differential punishment violates retributive justice because it contributes to structural racial oppression. Over the course of developing and defending this claim, I identify the shortcomings of both comparative egalitarianism and respectarianism, which is the most popular and plausible brand of noncomparativism.

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Benjamin S. Yost
Cornell University

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References found in this work

Knowledge and Action.John Hawthorne & Jason Stanley - 2008 - Journal of Philosophy 105 (10):571-590.
What is Egalitarianism?Samuel Scheffler - 2003 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 31 (1):5-39.
Punishment and Responsibility.H. L. A. Hart - 1968 - Philosophy 45 (172):162-162.
Necessity, Volition and Love.Harry G. Frankfurt - 2001 - Philosophical Quarterly 51 (202):114-116.
Persons and Punishment.Herbert Morris - 1968 - The Monist 52 (4):475-501.

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