Rawlings School of Divinity


Master of Divinity (MDiv)


Donald W. Holdridge


Redemptive, Restorative, Retributive, Justice, Penology, Recidivism


Law | Religion | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


Grounded on long-standing penal notions of exclusive retributivism inherited from classical theorists, Ancient Near East lex talionis, and theonomist penology, the United States federal sentencing and corrections system aims to administer just desert sentences on offenders, to curtail crimes. This exclusively retributive model of criminal sanction is, presumably transformative and innately capable of dispensing holistic justice to society, victims, and criminals. However, the preponderance of high rates of recidivism raises the question of whether this exclusively retributive doctrinal framework that drives the federal penology empirically results in a redemptive administration of penal justice, especially to the offender. Given the traditional dominance of the exclusive retributive model in federal penology, the recidivistic consequences raise three major issues that challenge the continued primacy of exclusive retributivism as a dominant penal doctrine in the federal criminal justice system. First, whether exclusively retributive penal doctrines are innately redemptive for holistic, transformative outcomes, given the preponderance of recidivism trailing its application historically. Second, it inquires, comparatively, whether a restorative justice model possesses intrinsic redemptive, holistic, restorative attributes capable of mediating transformative peace, harmony, and order within the criminal justice system. Third, the thesis duly rejects the prevailing exclusively retributive scheme as inadequately equipped to redeem its subjects because while retributive penalties may be corrective, its exclusive imposition is innately non-redemptive. Contrary to the claims of exclusive retribution, the recidivism data cited here supports the notion that, post-retribution, most of the criminals are more likely than not to reoffend, even more egregiously. Thus, this thesis stands for the apologetic proposition that the redemptive penology model found within the restorative justice models is innately equipped to holistically transform criminals, crime victims, and society under the rubric of the federal sentencing and corrections doctrines, especially when operating in tandem with retribution per se and restorative justice goals.