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Ex‐offender Restrictions

Journal of Applied Philosophy

Published online on


Individuals convicted of crimes are often subject to numerous restrictions — on housing, employment, the vote, public assistance, and other goods — well after they have completed their sentences, and in some cases permanently. The question of whether — and if so, when — ex‐offender restrictions are morally permissible has received surprisingly little philosophical scrutiny. This article first examines the significance of completing punishment, of paying one's debt to society, and contends that when offenders' debts are paid, they should be restored to full standing as citizens. Thus all ex‐offender restrictions are presumptively unjustified. Nonconsequentialist defences of these restrictions are ultimately unsuccessful in defeating the presumption against them. In a limited range of cases, consequentialist considerations — namely, of risk reduction — may be sufficient to override the presumptive case against these restrictions. The article concludes by suggesting a number of criteria for assessing whether particular restrictive measures are permissible on grounds of risk reduction.