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The criminal justice system traditionally performs its public functions – condemning prohibited conduct, shaming and stigmatizing violators, promoting societal norms – through the use of negative examples: convicting and punishing violators. One could imagine, however, that the same public functions could also be performed through the use of positive examples: publicly acknowledging and celebrating offenders who have chosen a path of atonement through confession, apology, making amends, acquiescing in just punishment, and promising future law abidingness. An offender who takes this path arguably deserves official public recognition, an update of all records and databases to record the public redemption, and an exemption from all collateral consequences of conviction.

This essay explores how and why such a system of public redemption might be constructed, the benefits it might provide to offenders, victims, and society, and the political complications that creation of such a system might encounter.


Criminal justice, reintegration, prisoner reentry, retributivism, collateral consequences, restorative justice, pardon, clemency, apology, confession, amends, atonement, repentant, remorse, deserved punishment, empirical desert, self-punishment, expungement, transitional justice, jury sentencing

Publication Title

Rutgers University Law Review

Publication Citation

73 Rutgers U. L. Rev. 1 (2020)