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

July 15, 2022 in PRINT EDITION

Let Us Not Be Intimidated: Past and Present Applications of Section 11(B) of the Voting Rights Act

Abstract: As John Lewis said, “ vote is precious. Almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have to create a more perfect union.” The Voting Rights Act (VRA),…
Read More
July 15, 2022 in PRINT EDITION

Queer and Convincing: Reviewing Freedom of Religion and LGBTQ+ Protections Post-Fulton v. City of Philadelphia

Abstract: Recent increases in LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws have generated new conversations in the free exercise of religion debate. While federal courts have been wrestling with claims brought under the Free Exercise…
Read More
March 1, 2022 in PRINT EDITION

The New Bailments

Abstract: The rise of cloud computing has dramatically changed how consumers and firms store their belongings. Property that owners once managed directly now exists primarily on infrastructure maintained by intermediaries. Consumers…
Read More