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University of Baltimore Law Review

Abstract

While weighing whether or not to turn himself in for murder and surrender to prison, a 23-year-old law student questions the high premium placed on imprisonment as a rehabilitative measure. After finally submitting to imprisonment, however, Rodion Raskolnikov comes to understand the value of atoning for his crimes and how his punishment correlates with societal justice. The balance struck between an appropriate amount of suffering and society’s need for justice is at the heart of Raskolnikov’s character development.

Despite Raskolnikov’s imprisonment and accompanying character transformation, one important question remains unanswered by Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel: at what point does a punishment become excessive when compared to the nature of the crime and the culpability of the offender? Although Raskolnikov is ultimately grateful for his imprisonment since it provided him the opportunity to repay his debt to society, his all-consuming fear of a punitively lengthy prison sentence prevented him from confessing for months after committing murder. When considering the modern implications of the novel, some scholars have argued that, if Raskolnikov were alive in the United States today, he would still be imprisoned due to the unforgiving nature of the American penal system. These scholars argue that American prisons have abandoned the concept of rehabilitating offenders, and instead, simply resort to locking up criminals indefinitely.

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