Punishment and Accountability: Understanding and Reforming Criminal Sanctions in America


The vast majority of Americans favor sanctions that require offenders to engage in responsible behavior—to work, pay restitution, or support dependents; to participate in a mandatory job-training, literacy, or drug-treatment program; or to meet some other prosocial obligation. While this intuitive preference crosses political and ideological divides, nothing in our classical theories of punishment properly accounts for or develops this intuition. In this Article, Donald Braman explores the popular preference for and the benefits that attach to these accountability-reinforcing sanctions. Reviewing existing and original ethnographic, interview, and survey data, he describes why these sanctions have such broad appeal, and he advances a theory that suggests a number of benefits that are generally ignored when evaluating sanctions in terms of deterrence and rehabilitation. He concludes by reviewing and suggesting ways to reform existing punishment practices in light of accountability concerns.

About the Author

Irving S. Ribicoff Fellow, Yale Law School; J.D., Yale Law School; Ph.D., Anthropology, Yale University.

By uclalaw