Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Why We Punish

We found this article on the Situationist. It examines the how we as a society tend to view punishment and how we deal it out.

Our justice system often provides tangled rationales for punishment. Is our system based on retribution or deterrence? Which comports better with society’s views of justice?

Previous studies have shown that when individuals are given the opportunity to punish an offender, they sentence retributively, based on the moral wrongfulness of the offender’s actions. However, those initial studies did not assess whether people based these retributive punishments on the harm the act caused or the wrongfulness of the offender’s intent.

Below we summarize a recent study by John Darley, Adam Alter, and Julia Kernochan that explores that distinction.

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The easiest case in criminal law involves one person intending to shoot and kill another person — who aim, fires, and hits the target. The easiest case, however, is never the most interesting. Criminal law is full of cases in which the intended assassin has poor aim, and winds up shooting the wrong person or no one at all, as well as cases in which a hunting or target-shooting bullet goes awry, making an unintentional killer out of a marksman.

Princeton social psychologists (Alter, Kernochan, and Darley) investigated situations in which the harm done and the harm intended were not the same. How much punishment — or, more specifically, how long of a prison sentence — would subjects impose on actors in these situations? Would the harmfulness of the act or the wrongfulness of the act be the primary factor in these judgments? Such sentencing preferences would tap into moral intuitions about the importance of wrongfulness (intent) and harmfulness (consequence).

Modern criminal law requires both actus reus (a wrongful act) and mens rea (a guilty mind) to coincide for a crime to have occurred. Liability is thus contingent on both harmfulness and wrongfulness. Doctrines such as “innocent agency” allow one person’s acts and another person’s intent to be consolidated so that a crime can be found to have occurred. In such a situation, a knowing actor manipulates an innocent individual into committing an act that would be criminal if mens rea were present. The person who acted wrongfully with intent in this situation is the one who is punished, not the person who acted harmfully without intent.

The Situationist