In the United States, the criminal justice system deals with crime with the aid of established rules which govern the investigation and prosecution of people accused of committing crimes and the subsequent sentencing of those who are found guilty of the charges brought against them. Although everybody agrees that there is absolute need to punish the guilty, a debate has been raging in the country concerning the most effective type of punishment that the country should adopt.
The four types of punishment which have so far been identified over the course of history are retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and social protection. The most critical aspect of the debate is which among these four types of punishment is the most effective deterrent to crime (Macionis, 2006). The earliest justification for punishment is called retribution. It was supposed to have its roots in the saying “an eye for an eye” which, everybody knows by now, was first found in the Holy Bible.
Under this type of punishment, the penalty should approximate the offense. For instance, a person who has murdered someone should also be punished with death. However, the popular belief is that retribution was not practiced just to punish an offender but was in fact resorted to an act of vengeance (Macionis, 2006). The second type of punishment is deterrence. This is described as an “early modern approach” having surfaced fairly recently. The advocates of this type of punishment believe that man, who is a sensible being, is primary motivated by self-protection.
Under this concept, if given a choice, man would always avoid being harmed both physically and emotionally. Their theory, therefore, is that once offenders realize that the punishment for committing a certain crime is more severe when compared to the benefits that they could possibly reap out of committing it, the prospective offender would effectively be dissuaded from committing crime. Deterrence has two forms: specific deterrence and general deterrence.
Specific deterrence means that a certain would-be offender is convinced that being a criminal does not pay. General deterrence, on the other hand, simply means that an offender who is punished (usually severely) for a crime is made an example to other would-be offenders in order to discourage them committing the same crime that he or she did commit (Macionis, 2006). Rehabilitation, the third type of punishment, is considered to be a “modern strategy” which was devised by social scientists.
They advanced the hypothesis that crime is a “result of social problems (such as poverty) or personal problems (such as mental illness). ” Proceeding from this line of reasoning, they argued that since criminals are products of worsening social conditions, it is possible to rehabilitate offenders by improving their social conditions. Hence, rehabilitation necessarily consists of programs designed to reform offenders by exposing them to improved social conditions.
Rehabilitation programs take place in “houses of correction” or “reformatories” where offenders are tutored on the proper social behavior so that they would know how to behave when the time comes that they are allowed to rejoin society (Macionis, 2006). The fourth type of punishment is another modern strategy. Social protection proponents claim that this type of punishment is much easier to achieve because less resources, time, and efforts are involved. According to them, social protection is preferable when society could not afford, or is not inclined, to implement rehabilitation programs.
It is easier and cheaper because it is simply “rendering an offender incapable of further offenses temporarily through imprisonment or permanently by execution. ” In other words, it does not matter whether government simply imprisons the convicted criminal or executes him or her. What matters is for them to be separated from society for the protection of every member of society. Social protection, therefore, could be achieved either by incarceration or by imposing the death penalty (Sutton, 2000 and Sentencing Project, 2004 as cited in Macionis, 2006).