For twelve years Robert Blecker, a criminal law professor, wandered freely inside Lorton Central Prison, armed only with cigarettes and a tape recorder. "The Death of Punishment" tests legal philosophy against the reality and wisdom of street criminals and their guards.Read more...
For twelve years Robert Blecker, a criminal law professor, wandered freely inside Lorton Central Prison, armed only with cigarettes and a tape recorder. "The Death of Punishment" tests legal philosophy against the reality and wisdom of street criminals and their guards. Some killers' poignant circumstances should lead us to mercy; others show clearly why they should die. After thousands of hours over twenty-five years inside maximum security prisons and on death rows in seven states, the history and philosophy professor exposes the perversity of justice: Inside prison, ironically, it's nobody's job to punish. Thus the worst criminals often live the best lives.
The Death of Punishment challenges the reader to refine deeply held beliefs on life and death as punishment that flare up with every news story of a heinous crime. It argues that society must redesign life and death in prison to make the punishment more nearly fit the crime. It closes with the final irony: If we make prison the punishment it should be, we may well abolish the very death penalty justice now requires.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-09-23
- Reviewer: Staff
Opponents of capital punishment will find this treatise unsettling, if not outright maddening. Blecker, a professor at New York Law School, makes his case for an ethics of retributive punishment—a proportional “eye for an eye”—but ends up getting bogged down in tangential, and occasionally disingenuous, arguments about the current state of the criminal justice system. Blecker notes discrepancies in treatment between “the worst of the worst” and others serving life, or even death sentences, demonstrating that life without parole is not always the harsh sentence many assume. But Blecker is dismissive of abolitionists’ criticisms, even stating that it’s worth the risk of executing the innocent in the pursuit of “the near certainty of justice.” His proposal for Permanent Punitive Segregation—a sentence that would deprive the worst of the worst any pleasures in order to make their time behind bars oppressive—is one that Connecticut has adopted and that other jurisdictions would do well to consider, he says. Blecker’s potentially sympathetic argument about the merits of retributive punishment for mankind’s “monsters” gets lost amid his continual attempts repudiate those who think otherwise. (Nov.)