Is Twenty-first Century Punishment Post-desert?

Matt Matravers

in Retributivism Has a Past

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199798278
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919376 | DOI:

Series: Studies in Penal Theory and Philosophy

Is Twenty-first Century Punishment Post-desert?

Show Summary Details


This chapter offers a brief introduction to how one might think about penal policies in an abstract context. Having rejected the desert thesis, it argues that “an entitlement to proportionality in sentencing” is not an independent principle, but is—as with all “entitlements”—determined by the wider theory of justice. For this reason, policy proposals have to be thought through; they cannot simply be rejected as incompatible with desert or proportionality. Twenty-first century punishment will be post-desert, but that is not a recent change. The best theories of punishment (and much else) are post-desert, and have been since long before the retributive revival at the end of the twentieth century. That revival was not about desert, but was about sweeping away many practices that resulted in actual injustices. It has left us with a principle of proportionality that is important, but insufficient.

Keywords: penal policies; desert theory; proportionality; sentencing; entitlements; justice; retributive revival

Chapter.  8521 words. 

Subjects: Criminal Law

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.