When a state subjects its citizens to serious social injustice, and then those citizens engage in criminal activities as a result (e.g., as a means of economic survival), does the state retain the moral standing to punish those citizens for their crimes? Many political and legal philosophers argue that such a state does not. This generates a dilemma: when an oppressed offender commits a genuinely wrongful criminal offense, the state must either punish her — thereby wronging her in light of its lack of standing — or it must refrain from punishing her — thereby wronging her victims and the broader public. In such cases, faced only with these two options, we argue that the state must simply choose to pursue whatever the lesser wrong is, which will depend on (inter alia) the gravity of the crime in question. But we also argue that restorative justice programs, in which offenders meet directly with victims to determine the appropriate path forward (including measures of restitution and rehabilitation), constitute a promising third option, one that involves less moral wrong overall. We thus defend greater use of restorative justice in our criminal justice systems, including — controversially — for violent crimes.
The paper is here.