The Weekly Free-for-All Debate: Rehabilitation or Retribution?


From now on there will be weekly ‘free-for-all’ debates on issues where many libertarians differ. The first of these is to be on criminal punishment and which form of it is the most libertarian one. While there are other theories of punishment, the main two are that of reforming the criminal and that of punishing him in proportion to his crimes. Of course, there are other theories - many libertarians believe in restitution rather than the proportionality theory - and all input is welcome so long as all participants (you can participate by commenting below) are courteous and refrain from swearing and from making comments unrelated to the topic up for debate.

6 thoughts on “The Weekly Free-for-All Debate: Rehabilitation or Retribution?

  1. Great idea this but before determining what is appropriate criminal punishment, it might have been useful to have figured out what libertarians would regard as a crime. But leaving that (rather sizeable) issue to one side, I would expect that most libertarians would wish to see people flourishing and participating fully in society. Therefore, rehabilitation would seem to be the appropriate approach. Incarceration simply as retribution for misdeeds doesn’t appear to provide much benefit to anyone, except those who earn a living from keeping people locked up. If there was a continuing threat of harm to others posed by the criminal, then jail to protect others, and probably the criminal, may be appropriate.

  2. If the purpose were to be “rehab”… the system would have to do rehab “right”… If the purpose is to punish, the punishment must simply fit the crime. Duh. However, a third is given: Imprisonment is also intended to REMOVE THE PROBLEM from the “garden” until and if the “problem person” overcomes his/her problem and can play well with others. If not, get read to memorize thy booking number…!!! (Been there, done that! I know…)

  3. Restitution ought to be the principled basis for dealing with criminal behaviour. If done right it would not only compensate the victim for his/her loss but also have the preventative effects of both rehabilitation and punishment. Let competing institutions offer various settings in which the criminal performs his restitution. Let the criminal, the victim (or their representatives) work with a mediator to reach an agreement on the institution and other terms. The proceeds from the criminal’s productive labour could be shared in an agreed upon proportion between them and the institution.

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