Christopher Lewis

Assistant Professor of Law

Biography

My research is about how the law (especially the criminal law) can be more fairly and efficiently administered in response to social and economic inequality. Before joining the law school faculty, I was a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. I studied for my J.D. and my Ph.D in Philosophy at Stanford.

Areas of Interest

Christopher Lewis, The Paradox of Recidivism, Emory L.J. (forthcoming May 2021).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
Sub-Categories:
Sentencing & Punishment
Type: Article
Abstract
The idea that we should respond more severely to repeated wrongdoing than we do to first-time misconduct is one of our most deeply held moral principles, and one of the most deeply entrenched principles in the criminal law and sentencing policy. Prior convictions trigger, on average, a six-fold increase in the length of punishment in states that use sentencing guidelines. And most of the people we lock up in the U.S. have at least one previous conviction.This article shows that given the current law and policy of collateral consequences, and the social conditions they engender, judges and sentencing commissions should do exactly the opposite of what they currently do: impose a recidivist sentencing discount, rather than a premium. This thesis is counterintuitive and politically unpalatable. It goes against the grain of criminal law and policy dating back as far as we know it, virtually the entire scholarly literature, and millennia of social tradition. But this article shows that it follows logically from fairly ordinary moral premises.
Christopher Lewis, Mass Incarceration, Risk and the Principles of Punishment, 112 J. Crim. L. & Criminology (forthcoming 2021).
Categories:
Criminal Law & Procedure
Sub-Categories:
Sentencing & Punishment
Type: Article
Abstract
Many criminal justice reformers see risk-based sentencing—where an offender’s likelihood of returning to crime determines the amount of time they spend in prison—as a fair and efficient way to shrink the size of the incarcerated population, while minimizing sacrifices to public safety. But, as this article shows, risk-based sentencing is indefensible—even assuming the truth of a number of controversial premises that proponents take to be sufficient for its justification. Instead of trying to cut sentences for those who are least likely to reoffend, officials should focus sentence reductions on the least well-off—who tend to be the most likely to reoffend.
Christopher Lewis, Latinos and the Principles of Racial Demography, 16 Du Bois Rev. 63 (2019).
Categories:
Discrimination & Civil Rights
Sub-Categories:
Race & Ethnicity
Type: Article
Christopher Lewis & David M. G. Lewis, The "Appropriate" Response to Deprivation: Evolutionary and Ethical Dimensions, 40 Behav. & Brain Sci. 32 (2017).
Categories:
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
Sub-Categories:
Law & Behavioral Sciences
Type: Article
Abstract
Pepper & Nettle use an evolutionary framework to argue that “temporal discounting” is an appropriate response to low socioeconomic status (SES), or deprivation. We suggest some conceptual refinements to their “appropriate-response” perspective, with the hope that it usefully informs future research on and public policy responses to the relationship between deprivation and temporal discounting.
Christopher Lewis, Inequality, Incentives, Criminality & Blame, 22 Legal Theory 153 (2016).
Categories:
Disciplinary Perspectives & Law
,
Criminal Law & Procedure
Sub-Categories:
Sentencing & Punishment
,
Legal Theory & Philosophy
Type: Article
Abstract
The disadvantaged have incentives to commit crime, and to develop criminogenic dispositions, that limit the extent to which their co-citizens can blame them for breaking the law. This is true regardless of whether the causes of criminality are mainly “structural” or “cultural.” We need not assume that society as a whole is unjust in order to accept this conclusion. And doing so would neither stigmatize nor otherwise disrespect the disadvantaged..
Christopher Lewis, Oppositional Culture & Educational Opportunity, 10 Theory & Res. Educ. 131 (2012).
Categories:
Discrimination & Civil Rights
Sub-Categories:
Race & Ethnicity
Type: Article
Abstract
The most common lay explanation for the racial gap in educational achievement in the US is the ‘oppositional culture hypothesis’, which holds that Black students tend to undervalue education and stigmatize their high-achieving peers, accusing them of ‘acting White’. Many believe that, insofar as this hypothesis is true, Black underachievement is unproblematic from the perspective of justice, because Black students are simply not taking the fair opportunities presented to them. This article offers a systematic critique of the normative aspects of this view and some conceptual clarifications regarding the nature of opportunity.

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