Skip to main content
PRINT EDITION

Revocation and Retribution

By October 1, 2021July 22nd, 2022No Comments

Abstract: Revocation of community supervision is a defining feature of American criminal law. Nearly 4.5 million people in the United States are on parole, probation, or supervised release, and 1/3 eventually have their supervision revoked, sending 350,000 to prison each year. Academics, activists, and attorneys warn that “mass supervision” has become a powerful engine of mass incarceration.

This is the first Article to study theories of punishment in revocation of community
supervision, focusing on the federal system of supervised release. Federal courts apply a primarily retributive theory of revocation, aiming to sanction defendants for their “breach of trust.” However, the structure, statute, and purpose of supervised release all reflect a utilitarian design justified solely by deterrence and incapacitation, not retribution.

A utilitarian approach to revocation would not just be a theoretical change, but also would have a real-world impact by shortening prison terms, mitigating racial bias, and ending consecutive sentencing. While scholars view courts as the government branch most protective of criminal defendants, the judiciary has played a key role in expanding the state’s power to punish through retributive revocation. Judges may feel a personal stake in sanctioning disrespect of their authority, yet they should revoke supervised release only to deter and incapacitate.

Download the Full Article

Other Articles from WLR Print Edition

December 1, 2023 in PRINT EDITION

A Good Death: End-of-Life Lawyering Through a Relational Autonomy Lens

Abstract: Death is difficult—even for lawyers who counsel clients on end-of-life planning. The predominant approach to counseling clients about death relies too heavily on traditional notions of personal autonomy and…
Read More
December 1, 2023 in PRINT EDITION

Surprises in the Skies: Resolving the Circuit Split on How Courts Should Determine Whether an “Accident” is “Unexpected or Unusual” Under the Montreal Convention

Abstract: Article 17 of both the Montreal Convention and its predecessor, the Warsaw Convention, imposes liability onto air carriers for certain injuries and damages from “accidents” incurred by passengers during…
Read More
December 1, 2023 in PRINT EDITION

Following the Science: Judicial Review of Climate Science

Abstract: Climate change is the greatest existential crisis of our time. Yet, to date, Congress has failed to enact the broad-sweeping policies required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the…
Read More