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Is it time to question the concept of punishment?

Wright, Martin
June 4, 2015

Source: (2003) In, Lode Walgrave, ed., Repositioning Restorative Justice. Devon: Willan Publishing. Pp. 3-23.

Martin Wright begins this paper with a short but graphic catalogue of ways in which humans have punished people over millennia. Restorative justice, he asserts, is an attempt to find a better way to respond to wrongdoing. In fact, in his perspective it is an approach that questions the very concept of punishment. To explicate his perspective, Wright discusses the general (though not absolute) transition from overtly physical kinds of punishment to more psychological forms, with the confinement of offenders in prison becoming a prominent and standard approach to dealing with wrongdoers. Prisons are in a sense more humane. Yet they generally fail to change or rehabilitate offenders, and they are costly in financial and human terms. In this context, Wright argues that the more punitive the response, the less rehabilitative; and the less punitive the response, the more rehabilitative. He makes his argument through a consideration of the use of the term “punishment,â€? the desirability of punitive sanctions, the problems with such sanctions, and the management of wrongdoing without punitive sanctions.


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