The Place of Repentance in Retributive Sentencing

By Kitai-Sangero, Rinat; Lipschits, Itay | International Journal of Punishment and Sentencing, October 2011 | Go to article overview

The Place of Repentance in Retributive Sentencing


Kitai-Sangero, Rinat, Lipschits, Itay, International Journal of Punishment and Sentencing


ABSTRACT: Repentance touches many aspects of life. It is basic to human relations. The article sets forth the normative reasons for taking repentance into account in the frame of criminal sentencing. Change that takes place in people should be recognized as a relevant measure for society's attitude toward them. The web of social relations among offender, victim, and society needs to permeate the criminal justice system and the considerations of punishment that it includes. Whoever wants to disconnect between the prevailing social reality, which attributes great interpersonal importance to repentance and forgiveness, and the question of how a person is punished in individual-state relations, has the burden of proof to show that the social reality is not worthy. If a person has a right to be punished as a consequence from her being a rational moral agent she may also repent her offense as an autonomous person. The repentance may change not only one's future but also illuminate her past.

I. Introduction

Repentance touches many aspects of life, and it is basic to human relations. The present article sets forth the normative reasons for taking repentance into account, and tries to raise the awareness of the value of repentance in the frame of criminal retributive sentencing. It argues that repentance may change not only one's future but also illuminate her past; therefore, if a person has a right to be punished as a consequence from her being a rational moral agent she may also repent her offense as an autonomous person.

The second part of the article discusses the value and importance of repentance for the individual and for society at large, in light of which, it argues, repentance should constitute a central consideration within criminal punishment. Then, the third part of the article examines the central end for imposing punishments: the principle of retribution. The fourth part addresses the question of whether repentance falls within retributive punishment or whether it acts outside it as an extenuating circumstance. The article claims that the offender's repentance is a pertinent factor that should be calculated under a model of retribution. Part five discusses different arguments that militate against the consideration of repentance when meting out criminal punishment. The article concludes that although recognition of the influence of repentance on sentencing raises many difficult problems, there is no escape from addressing them within the framework of sentencing rather than waiving the factor of repentance because of its complexity. The importance of the interpersonal relationships between offenders and victims as well as the importance of repentance for the moral growth of the individual and society, warrant the inclusion of repentance within the considerations of punishment.

II. The Value of Repentance

Much has been written on the importance of repentance. Repentance operates on the plain of interpersonal relations; repentance and forgiveness act to heal wounds, to derive lessons, to rehabilitate relations. (1) Repentance that is expressed on the part of the offender constitutes confirmation of the victim's rectitude and opens the possibility of salving the wounds of the trauma. (2) It is easier for the victim who receives an apology to forgive and to heal. (3) Sincere repentance by the offender can, then, return the victim's sense of respect and equality. (4)

But even in the absence of mutual relationships between the offender and the victim, repentance is vital for the moral development of the individual. (5) In religious thinking, repentance is also the natural role that God gives to the erring soul in order that it returns to the straight path. (6) Hebrew sages claim that "in the place where penitents stand, even the wholly righteous cannot stand". (7) The German philosopher Scheler views repentance as a kind of self-healing of the soul, and in effect the only form in which the soul can collect its strength. …

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