New Philosopher

The ultimate penalty

Life imprisonment is a form of punishment that gives the state the power to exclude offenders from society for the rest of their lives. As Jacques Derrida perceptively noted, concern for an effective means of maintaining order led early death penalty abolitionists, such as 18th century philosopher Cesare Beccaria, to recommend life imprisonment as a more effective deterrent than capital punishment, which hardened criminals might dismiss with bravado.

The form of life imprisonment that Beccaria had in mind was of a distinctly pre-Enlightenment kind. He envisaged life imprisonment as “perpetual penal servitude … under the cudgel and the yoke or in an iron cage where the desperate man finds his woes are beginning rather than ending”.

Admittedly, the growing recognition of

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