Library Header Image
LSE Research Online LSE Library Services

To blame or to forgive? Reconciling punishment and forgiveness in criminal justice

Lacey, Nicola and Pickard, Hanna (2015) To blame or to forgive? Reconciling punishment and forgiveness in criminal justice. Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 35 (4). 665 - 696. ISSN 0143-6503

PDF - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (286kB) | Preview
Identification Number: 10.1093/ojls/gqv012


What do you do when faced with wrongdoing – do you blame or do you forgive? Especially when confronted with offenses that lie on the more severe end of the spectrum and cause terrible psychological or physical trauma or death, nothing can feel more natural than blame. Indeed, in the UK and the US, increasingly vehement and righteous public expressions of blame and calls for vengeance have become commonplace; correspondingly, contemporary penal philosophy has witnessed a resurgence of the retributive tradition, in the modern form usually known as the ‘justice’ model. On the other hand, people can and routinely do forgive others, even in cases of severe crime. Evolutionary psychologists argue that both vengeance and forgiveness are universal human adaptations that have evolved as alternative responses to exploitation, and, crucially, strategies for reducing risk of re-offending. We are naturally endowed with both capacities: to blame and retaliate, or to forgive and seek to repair relations. Which should we choose? Drawing on evolutionary psychology, we offer an account of forgiveness and argue that the choice to blame, and not to forgive, is instrumentally counter-productive to reducing the risk of future re-offending and inconsistent with the political values of a liberal society. We then sketch the shape of penal philosophy and criminal justice policy and practice with forgiveness in place as a guiding ideal.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2014 The Authors © CC BY 4.0
Divisions: Gender Studies
Social Policy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
K Law > K Law (General)
Date Deposited: 02 Dec 2014 15:19
Last Modified: 05 Apr 2024 05:18
Projects: 090768
Funders: Wellcome Trust

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics