Only Retributive Justice Is Restorative: Plummeting Outcomes Edition


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Rand reports that a big randomized trial of super-lax discipline policies in Pittsburgh schools had negative effects on student achievement and big negative effects on African-American student achievement. Of course, Rand buries the negative finding under mountains of politically palatable pablum, but if you dig (search for “not all PERC impacts were positive”) you can find it just barely acknowledged. Or, if you grok geek, check out Table 6.7 on p. 56.

Via this thread, which reviews other studies with similar findings in LA and Philly. Backfill from Max Eden at (sigh) Fordham.

As I’ve written before on JPGB, the most destructive aspect here is that advocates have chosen to label the loosey-goosey discipline policy “restorative justice.” They accept a false and outrageous distinction between “restorative” and “retributive” justice, and cling to the absolutely unsupported prejudice that lax policies will be more restorative, while it is the desire for retributive justice that produces harsher policies. The reality is that in most cases, justice must be both retributive in intention and strict in application to be truly restorative. There is a place for mercy, but not too much and not too often. Nothing ruins young people more effectively, or prevents their “restoration” more completely, than lax discipline.

This is destructive because the lesson most people will take from their failures is that justice should not be restorative if we want it to be either retributive or effective:

The increasing tendency of some to dehumanize criminals and demand harsher and harsher treatment of them cannot be fought by advocacy of lax punishments in the name of “restorative justice.” It is directly caused by advocacy of lax punishments in the name of “restorative justice.”

Only retributive justice, which affirms that punishment is not an arbitrary tool of social control but a just and necessary consequence of the crime that the criminal is morally obligated to suffer, can be effective in restraining the abuse of criminals – and promoting their genuine restoration.

As C.S. Lewis once said, I plead for retributive justice not primarily for the sake of society, or for the sake of crime victims, but for the sake of the criminal.

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