Document Type



Master of Arts



Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

William Dunaway


William Dunaway

Gualtiero Piccinini

Jill Delston


The main form of justice practiced in the United States when it comes to criminal proceedings and individual wrongdoings is a form of justice called Retributive Justice. Retributive justice is committed to following these three principles, 1: that those who commit certain kinds of wrongful acts, morally deserve to suffer an equivalent punishment; 2: that it is intrinsically morally good—good without reference to any other goods if some legitimate punisher gives them the punishment they deserve; and 3: that it is morally impermissible to punish the innocent intentionally or to inflict disproportionately large punishments on offenders. From the three principles that retributive justice must follow, we can see that retributive justice is concerned with the philosophical ideas of assigning moral responsibility, desert, and obtaining justice through the means of punishment. From my observations, retributive justice in the United States has not properly implemented nor practiced its philosophical ideas or duties. The existence of many societal and cultural factors and pressures has made the proper implementation of retributive justice hard to achieve. My argument is that the philosophical ideas found in retributive justice have been lost and have not been followed due to the existence of societal conflicts affecting the individuals in place who are meant to carry out these policies. In contrast, transitional justice does not face these same issues when practiced. This is due to a variety of reasons, primarily this is the case due to the end goal of transitional justice. I showcase the benefits and differences of the processes found in transitional justice, and why it is more likely to combat the negative effects of systemic racism, in a way that could allow us to correct the problems found in retributive justice.