Just Punishment? A Virtue Ethics Approach to Prison Reform in the United States
Getek, Kathryn Ann. “Just Punishment? A Virtue Ethics Approach to Prison Reform in the United States”, Boston College, 2010. http://hdl.handle.net/2345/3761.
The United States penal system, fragmented by contradictory impulses toward retribution and incapacitation, is in need of coherent objectives for its prisons and jails. This dissertation draws upon the resources of virtue ethics to suggest a new model of justice, one which claims that a Christian theological framework can offer insight for public correctional institutions. In developing a model of justice as virtue, I incorporate rehabilitative goals and contributions from restorative justice. Advancing beyond these foundations, I draw upon two key sources. First, from a study of virtue and justice in the work of Thomas Aquinas, I argue that the virtue of legal justice - an orientation toward the common good - is the fundamental lens for understanding punishment. The prison can only cultivate justice to the extent that it empowers moral agency and (re-)orients offenders toward right relationship with the community. Second, an inclusive, restorative account of biblical justice - developed particularly from Isaiah, the Psalms, and the New Testament - establishes justice as a saving intervention. Thus, punishment can be a legitimate means but is not constitutive of justice itself. Despite its necessary limitations, the prison must empower the moral agency of inmates through just action, reformulate the role and practices of correctional staff, and facilitate just relationships between offenders and their communities and families. Furthermore, prisons themselves can be understood as moral agents that bear responsibility for cultivating justice in society. For the United States prison, a model of justice as virtue mandates unremitting efforts to transform offenders and the larger community into just moral agents.