How Psychology is Changing the Punishment Theory Debate

Paul H. Robinson, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School


This brief essay reviews the contributions that social psychology is making the debate among criminal law theorists on the proper principle for the distribution of criminal liability and punishment. Included are a discussion of suggestions that deterrence may be ineffective as a distributive principle, that incapacitation of dangerous persons may be effective but might be more effective if pursued through a detention system distinct from the criminal justice system, and that desert as a distributive principle, ironically, might be the most effective for controlling crime. Available for download at