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William Godwin’s Moral Education Theory of Punishment: Is It a Restorative Approach to Justice?

Smith, Polly Ashton
June 4, 2015

Source: (1998) Contemporary Justice Review v.1: 87-101

This article focuses on a significant historical foundation for the contemporary restorative justice perspective on punishment and corrections. William Godwin’s views, which are characterized here as a version of the moral education theory of punishment, provide a critique of the justifications of punishment – retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation – that have informed correctional policy and practice since his own era, two hundred years ago. The assumptions of the moral education theory lead him to reject coercive punishment as a morally or politically viable method of social control. Instead, he outlines an approach that is based in informal control, with a least restrictive standard applied to the type and duration of coercion used to restrain offenders who threaten safety, and a set of duties owed to the offender by community members.


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