Dr. Pestritto seeks to illuminate the political principles of the American founding by analyzing the significant changes that took place in criminal laws and punishments of the time.
Following the American Revolution, several states dramatically reduced the severity of their criminal penalties.
In examining the changes in criminal statutes and the various “penal reform” movements of the founding era, he traces their roots in the Western tradition of political thought and connects them to such current issues as “three strikes” and mandatory sentencing.
Based upon an analysis of period documents and writings, including state constitutions and statutes, the arguments of America’s founders, and the writings of such influential reforms as William Penn, William Bradford, and Thomas Jefferson, Dr. Pestritto seeks to grasp the complex mix of punishment philosophies at work in early America.
While legal scholars and historians often credit Enlightenment utilitarianism with having the dominant influence on America’s first penal codes, he maintains that early criminal legislation represented a synthesis of approaches: divine justice, the natural law, penitence, and moral amendment as well as Enlightenment utilitarianism.
Ronald J. Pestritto is an Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of Dallas. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and an M.A. in Politics from the
Claremont Graduate School. Prior to teaching at the University of Dallas, he has held teaching positions at Saint Vincent College, Azusa Pacific University, and
Woodbury University. Professor Pestritto is the author of Founding the Criminal Law: Punishment and Political Thought in the Origins of America
(Northern Illinois University Press, 1999). He has received an Earhart Foundation Fellowship Research Grant, and was named a Salvatori Fellow at the
Heritage Foundation. Additionally, Dr. Pestritto has served as a consultant to the Assembly Office of Research for the California Legislature and as an
Intelligence Research Specialist at the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Dr. Pestritto’s research interests include American
politics and public policy, Criminal Justice, and American political thought.