Retribution and reform work leads to two grants for professor

Jalilia Jefferson-BullockAssociate Professor of Law Jalila Jefferson-Bullock was the recent recipient of Duquesne University's Presidential Scholarship Award and the University's Dr. John and Liz Murray Excellence in Scholarship Award.

She was awarded the Presidential Scholarship Award for her work on her paper "Return to Retribution: Dignity and Humanity and Federal Criminal Sentencing." Jefferson-Bullock said it is a discussion about sentencing reform and racial reconciling, sparked, in part, by the events of last summer, specifically the murder of George Floyd.

"COVID-19 laid bare the reality that the criminal justice system is flawed, and it became more imperative because of the summer 2020 tragedies-especially the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor-that we seek policies that change our system. I hope that my work will add to the conversation about what that will look like. Retribution is used now as the primary sentencing motivator. Retributive punishment is supposed to be apportioned in proportion to the amount of harm you caused. In actual practice, however, we punish because we think that those who offend are bad people. This article takes a different look at that, make sures we really understand what retribution is supposed to do and offers how we can do it properly," she said.

Her article attempts to insert concepts of offender dignity into any retribution assessment, with the theory that places human dignity at its forefront. It also explains fair punishment cannot happen without considering what may make a person experience something less than humane.

"Our country does not think about embracing the dignity of the offender. But we should turn retribution into a more genuine concept with genuine principles. Think about what is proportional-and we cannot do that when we subject prisoners to habitual violence, rape, lack of adequate healthcare, and unsanitary conditions," Jefferson-Bullock said.

At the 2021 Commencement ceremony, Jefferson-Bullock received the Dr. John and Liz Murray Excellence in Scholarship Award. It is awarded to one student and one law faculty member for excellence in scholarship. Jefferson-Bullock received this award for her work on prison and sentencing reform.

"I have published so many articles and given dozens of talks about this information in areas of prisoner reform. I am working on a book chapter this summer about same thing," she said.

Jefferson-Bullock is honored to have received both awards. She said, "There were many worthy projects out there [for the Presidential Award]. I am pleased mine was considered and accepted. The Murray Award is an amazing honor because so many of my colleagues who I respect so much have received it. To be included among my brilliant colleagues is a tremendous honor. My work is different because it attempts to change the way we think about prisoners. I hope my work with prisoners advances and reaches more people resulting in a more equitable system."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and horizon-expanding education. A campus of nearly 8,500 graduate and undergraduate students, Duquesne prepares students by having them work alongside faculty to discover and reach their goals. The University’s academic programs, community service, and commitment to equity and opportunity in the Pittsburgh region have earned national acclaim.

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