“Is the U.S. Criminal Legal System a Crime Against Humainty?”
By Kit Wellman
In this informative video, Dr. Rachel Douchant interviews Professor Kit Wellman about his important work on the rights forfeiture theory of punishment (i.e., the theory that punishment is justified when a criminal forfeits his or her rights as a result of violating another’s rights). According to Wellman, this theory helps expose the unjust nature of the American criminal legal system, and it can help rectify this system’s problems. Wellman argues that the current criminal legal system is unjust due to its mass incarcerations of people for non-rights-violating crimes (e.g,. drug use), over-criminalization due to hyper legislation, etc. Such a problematic criminal system could, in turn, be reformed via the rights forfeiture theory, for it only justifies punishments based on actual rights violations and proportionately to the degree of these violations. Professor Wellman also explains both (1) how he has sought to overcome the theory’s typical objections and (2) why such a theory, which is as old as Hobbes and Locke, has not been taken seriously compared utilitarian and Kantian approaches to punishment. This is a fascinating interview, especially for those interested in political philosophy and/or criminal justice issues.
This interview of Professor Kit Wellman was conducted by Professor Rachel Douchant of Lindenwood University, and it is posted here with permission from Lindenwood’s Liberty and Ethics Center. Professor Wellman is Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis.