The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Punish and Isolate or Reform and Reintegrate?

Fri, September 25, 2009

Should society merely punish criminals, or should criminals be educated, reformed, and reintegrated? Questions of how to best structure our criminal justice systems are questions that the ancient political philosophers sought answers to, and they are questions that only become more urgent over time. In “Moral and Criminal Responsibility in Plato’s Laws,” published in the August issue of the American Political Science Review, Lorraine Pangle has drawn lessons from Plato for the contemporary restorative justice movement, an approach to criminal justice that prioritizes healing and reintegration. Pangle demonstrates that Plato provides a theoretical foundation for restorative justice, shows that punitive and restorative measures are not mutually exclusive, demonstrates the possibility of sustaining moral clarity while minimizing punitive harshness, and shows how shame can be put to positive use. Plato, Pangle writes, "points us to the most constructive ways both communities and individuals may take responsibility for correcting their faults."


Texas has been a leader in restorative justice programs, and restorative justice has been the focus of research at the University of Texas at Austin, such as the Bridges to Life analysis undertaken by Marilyn Armour in the School of Social Work. Going back further, Charles S. Potts was the first chair of the Department of Government at The University of Texas at Austin. In 1903, having received B.A. and M.A. degrees the previous year from the University, he was teaching economics and history in College Station and published an article in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science that discussed retribution and reform in Texas prisons. You can read it here.

Lorraine Pangle is associate professor of government and co-director of The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas. The American Political Science Review is the discipline’s flagship journal, and this is the second publication in the journal this year by Department of Government faculty – Stephen Jesse, in February, published “Spatial Voting in the 2004 Election.”

Bookmark and Share

  • Department of Government

    The University of Texas at Austin
    158 W 21st ST STOP A1800
    Batts Hall 2.116
    Austin, TX 78712-1704