Punishment & Sentencing



Thom Brooks has developed innovative work on punishment and restorative justice, including his award-winning book Punishment (2012) launched in the Houses of Parliament that develops a new theory — the “unified theory” of punishment — identified by Research Councils UK as one of the top 100 Big Ideas for the Future in British universities.

Many philosophers of punishment typically justify punishment in terms of a single purpose, such as retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation or alternative theories. This is in stark contrast to the multiple purposes for sentencing identified in the Model Penal Code and incorporated into sentencing guidelines for countries like the United States and United Kingdom. While legal philosophers defend a one-sided account, legal practitioners use penal pluralism but without a suitable theoretical framework for how multiple purposes can work together coherently. The “unified theory” defends penal pluralism but without the incoherence found in sentencing guidelines by developing a rights-based account.

Brooks has pioneered a new “punitive restoration” approach to better embed restorative justice into the criminal justice system. Restorative justice has many promising potential benefits of higher participant satisfaction for victims and offenders, lower reoffending rates and at much lower costs. Yet, its use is largely restricted to minor crimes by younger offenders. Punitive restoration is an approach to expanding the uses of restorative justice and conferencing through expanding the range of potential outcomes, including limited and specific uses of hard treatment to make the approach more suitable for a greater number offences and offenders.

Brooks’s research on capital punishment is particularly notable. He is quoted approvingly by the Connecticut Supreme Court in support of the landmark “watershed” case State v. Santiago (Santiago II), 318 Conn. 1, 105 (2015) abolishing the death penalty in his native state of Connecticut.  While the state legislature had ruled out executions for any future offenders, it is in Santiago that the state’s highest court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional under the state constitution. All persons on death row had their sentences moved to life imprisonment and the decision was reaffirmed in 2016.

Brooks champions a Hate Crime Offenders Register that would work much like the current register for sex offenders that would place restrictions on hate crime offenders, such as preventing their working with young people and vulnerable adults. This has received wide coverage in the media.

Brooks is a member of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) North East Community Involvement Panel. Brooks’s work on jury trials is cited approvingly in U.S. v Polizzi (E.D.N.Y. 2008).