Criminal Justice Research Centre

Confronting Penal Excess: Retribution and the Politics of Penal Minimalism

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Wednesday 16th December 2020 (14:00-16:00)
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Confronting Penal CJRC

Confronting Penal Excess


Dr David Hayes, University of Sheffield (Author)

Prof. Nicola Padfield, University of Cambridge and Prof. Rob Canton, DeMontfort University (Respondents)

In this author meets critics seminar, Dr David Hayes discusses his monograph ‘Confronting Penal Excess: Retribution and the Politics of Penal Minimalism’ in which he considers the correlation between the relative success of retributive penal policies in English-speaking liberal democracies since the 1970s, and the practical evidence of increasingly excessive reliance on the penal State in those jurisdictions.

David’s book sets out three key arguments. First, that increasingly excessive conditions in England and Wales over the last three decades represent a failure of retributive theory. Second, that the penal minimalist cause cannot do without retributive proportionality, at least in comparison to the limiting principles espoused by rehabilitation, restorative justice and penal abolitionism. Third, that another retributivism is therefore necessary if we are to confront penal excess. The monograph offers a sketch of this new approach, 'late retributivism', as both a theory of punishment and of minimalist political action, within a democratic society.

Centrally, criminal punishment is approached as both a political act and a policy choice. Consequently, penal theorists must take account of contemporary political contexts in designing and advocating for their theories. Although this inquiry focuses primarily on England and Wales, its models of retributivism and of academic contribution to democratic penal policy-making are relevant to other jurisdictions, too.

Responding to David will be Professor Nicola Padfield and Professor Rob Canton .

Nicola (Nicky) is Professor of Criminal and Penal Justice at the Law Faculty, University of Cambridge, and has been a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College since 1991. Her teaching and research has covered a broad canvas in criminal law, sentencing and criminal justice more generally. She sat as a Recorder (part-time judge) in the Crown Court from 2002-2014, is a Bencher of the Middle Temple and served as the University Advocate for several years. She was appointed as Honorary Queen's Counsel in 2018. Her books include ‘The Criminal Justice Process: Text and Materials’ (5th edition, 2016); ‘Criminal Law’ (10th edition, 2016), and ‘Beyond the Tariff: Human rights and the release of life sentence prisoners’ (2002). She has edited and contributed to a number of more recent collections of essays on parole and early release (which has involved research in a number of European countries).

Rob is Professor in Community and Criminal Justice at De Montfort University, Leicester. He is a former probation officer, and has worked extensively with the Council of Europe, the EU and the House of Commons Justice Select Committee. His books include ‘Why Punish? An Introduction to the Philosophy of Punishment’ (2017) and ‘Probation: Working with Offenders’ (2011) along with several co-edited collections such as ‘Policy Transfer in Criminal Justice’ (2014) and the ‘Dictionary of Probation and Offender Management’ (2007).

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Criminal Justice Research Centre

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