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Res Philosophica

Volume 97, Issue 2, April 2020
Mass Incarceration and Racial Justice

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1. Res Philosophica: Volume > 97 > Issue: 2
Chad Flanders, Scott Berman

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2019 res philosophica essay prize

2. Res Philosophica: Volume > 97 > Issue: 2
Jessica Flanigan, Christopher Freiman

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Public officials should compensate the victims of wrongful conviction and enforcement. The same considerations in favor of compensating people for wrongful conviction and enforcement in other cases support officials’ payment of reparations to the victims of unjust enforcement practices related to the drug war. First, we defend the claim that people who are convicted and incarcerated because of an unjust law are wrongfully convicted. Although their convictions do not currently qualify as wrongful convictions in the legal sense, we argue that the same reasons for legally recognizing other wrongful convictions support conceiving of these cases as wrongful convictions. If so, then people who suffered wrongful convictions associated with unjust laws, like others who were wrongfully convicted, are entitled to compensation and reparation. We then argue that America’s drug laws are unjust laws. Therefore, people who were convicted of nonviolent drug offenses are entitled to compensation.

3. Res Philosophica: Volume > 97 > Issue: 2
Erin I. Kelly

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The punitive, moralizing conception of individual responsibility commonly associated with retributive justice exaggerates the moral meaning of criminal guilt. Criminal guilt does not imply moral desert, nor does it justify moral blame. Mental illness, intellectual disability, addiction, immaturity, poverty, and racial oppression are factors that mitigate our sense of a wrongdoer’s moral desert, though they are mostly not treated by the criminal justice system as relevant to criminal culpability. The retributive theory also distracts from shared responsibility for social injustice. Instead of highlighting the moral urgency of correcting conditions that help to explain the crime rate, a commitment to retribution diverts attention from the social conditions that engender crime. These conditions include an unequal distribution of social, economic, and political power, which poses a serious problem for the retributive theory. When disadvantaged members of society act in ways that violate the criminal law, they are less morally blameworthy, even when the laws they violate are justified. Judgments of blame and desert, in relation to criminal justice, vary in accordance with political status. The diminished political power of oppressed groups is at odds with a retributive justification of punishment.

4. Res Philosophica: Volume > 97 > Issue: 2
Ekow N. Yankah

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The piece returns to my earlier challenges of retributivism as the basis of contemporary criminal law, advancing my work on republican political justifications that make central the effect of punishment on citizenship. In short, the justification of punishment should eschew individual retributivist “desert” and focus primarily on the effects of punishment on the entire polity. In particular, this would mean that the effects of mass incarceration would be explicitly a part of justification of punishment. Concretized, members of communities where widespread punishment (incarceration) has damaged collective civic health should explicitly receive discounts on otherwise “retributively justified” punishment. Most obviously, a regime focused on the effect of punishment on civic bonds would explicitly target the vast racial disparities in contemporary punishment regimes, grounding an explicit claim that an African-American or Hispanic defendant from overly punished communities should be punished less and requiring other state resources to secure the safety of the community. While critical, this regime is not solely aimed at racial disparities. This principle would equally address the concentration of punishment in poor, white communities often battered by punishment and policing. Thus, the policy shows a way of building allies across racial lines.

5. Res Philosophica: Volume > 97 > Issue: 2
Eric J. Miller

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When addressing the burdens borne by victims of police wrongdoing, we often overlook moral harms in focusing on the physical and psychological harms that they suffer. These moral harms undermine the moral status of the victim, her ability to consistently pursue the values she endorses, and her character. Victimhood is a morally significant social role. Victimhood imposes normative standards that measure the moral or political status of victim. Conforming to these standards affects our assessment of the conduct of the victim and her moral standing. Considering the victims’ role provides important insights into contemporary practices of policing in the United States. The physical and verbal acts of the police often force race-based degradation upon racially subordinated groups. There is often no morally good way out of racially discriminatory encounters when the choice is to degrade oneself or suffer violence or even death. Worse, how we respond to the threat of police violence morally undermines our relationships with those we would keep safe from policeviolence.

6. Res Philosophica: Volume > 97 > Issue: 2
Andy Engen

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Philosophers have highlighted a dilemma for the criminal law. Unjust, racist policies in the United States have produced conditions in which the dispossessed are more likely to commit crime. This complicity undermines the standing of the state to blame their offenses. Nevertheless, the state has reason to punish those crimes in order to deter future offenses. Tommie Shelby proposes a way out of this dilemma. He separates the state’s right to condemn from its right to punish. I raise doubts about Shelby’s proposed resolution. So long as punishment is widely and reasonably understood to condemn crime, Shelby’s proposal does not resolve the dilemma. Moreover, there is reason to think the blaming aspect of punishment plays a role in the justification of its hard treatment. I conclude by considering some other ways out of the dilemma, focusing especially on how the United States might take responsibility for its complicity.

7. Res Philosophica: Volume > 97 > Issue: 2
Jessica Wolfendale

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Philosophers working on torture have largely failed to address the widespread use of torture in the U.S. prison system. Drawing on a victim-focused definition of torture, I argue that the U.S. prison system is a torturous institution in which direct torture occurs (the use of solitary confinement) and in which torture is allowed to occur through the toleration of sexual assault of inmates and the conditions of mass incarceration. The use and toleration of torture expresses and reinforces the moral exclusion of those subjected to it, particularly African Americans. Importantly, this moral exclusion and the experience of torture may be created and reinforced through institutional practices independently of the intentions of individuals acting within those institutions. By prioritizing torture victims’ experiences and severing the link between torture and intention, my account forces a recognition that, far from being inconsistent with U.S. values, torture is deeply embedded within U.S. institutions.

8. Res Philosophica: Volume > 97 > Issue: 2
Jennifer Kling, Leland Harper

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This essay extends Robin DiAngelo’s concept of white fragility in two directions. First, we outline an additional cause of white fragility. The lack of proper terminology available to discuss race-based situations creates a semantic false dichotomy, which often results in an inability to discuss issues of racism in a way that is likely to have positive consequences, either for interpersonal relationships or for social and political change. Second, we argue that white fragility, with its semantic foundations, has serious consequences for racial justice. It perpetuates the mass incarceration of black Americans, and undergirds the knowledge gap and subsequent wealth gap. The result of these racial injustices, which are maintained partially through white fragility, is that black Americans do not live in a democracy; they neither occupy positions of social and political power, nor have the ability to obtain power or directly impact who does obtain power.