A major rationale for the application of punishment has been retribution or revenge.

1. Standards of conduct have been held up for members of groups to follow since the beginning of social history.  These standards or norms typically have been enforced by threats of punishment.  Formal systems for punishing norm violators can be traced back much further than efforts to understand why people violate norms.  It was not until the later part of the eighteenth century that crime was explained as natural rather than a supernatural phenomenon.  Prior to that crime was attributed to the devil, demons, witches, and other various evil spirits which were thought to be acting through the offending party.

A major rationale for the application of punishment has been retribution or revenge.  In early times revenge often served as the sole motive for dealing with crime.  During periods in which systems of private, kinship, religious, and state controlled revenge prevailed, little attention was focused on the causes of crime or on how responses to crime might be useful for crime control or prevention.  There is nothing in early days that approached formal systems of criminal justice.  Revenge served to placate and sometimes to compensate victims of crime.

During the earliest periods of private revenge life was brutal and short.  Persecution justified by law has been traced as far back as the fourth century A. D., but it reached its heights during the twelfth through the eighteenth century.  The inquisition took place in most European countries throughout the Middle  Ages and led to widespread imprisonment, torture and execution, which were means designed to get confessions and to punish the heretical.

The classical school represents the emergence of modern criminological thinking overcoming the earlier views that crime is a supernatural phenomenon.  But the classicists focused on the failure of the law to provide a rational framework for the control of criminal behavior and many of the contributions were in the reform of criminal codes and procedures.

The concept of deterrence, with its origins in the classical school of criminology, took on the high degree of rationality.  It was intended to be a general theory of crime or one that explains all types of crime and offenders.  Contemporary deterrence theory and the broader rational choice framework envision choice in somewhat more relative terms, a bounded rationality, that recognize variations in levels of choice and rationality (Sheley, 1991).

2.  The phrase “noting else works” is based on retribution and is based solely on moral reprobation or outrage at criminal misconduct.  This concept is linked with the punishment of criminals with incarceration.  Incapacitation seeks to reduce or to eliminate the capacity of offender to commit additional crimes.  Capital punishment is the only exclusive way of incapacitating offenders.  Imprisonment is the primary criminal justice practice designed to achieve the incapacitate goal.

There is a common sense in the notion that persons imprisoned will be kept from criminal activity.  But clearly incarceration is not a completely incapacitate measure because imprisoned offenders may victimize institutional staff and other inmates and on occasion, escape.  The goal of incapacitation has contributed to increased recourse to prisons in recent years and this is in particular for the offenders labeled career criminals.

Rehabilitation is designed to change offenders by removing the motivation to engage in criminal behavior.  The assumption behind rehabilitation is that behavior can be modified by altering attitudes, values, skills, or constitutional features that cause criminal behavior.  Based on a medical model, rehabilitation assumes that appropriate treatments may be prescribed according to the nature of the offender’s defect.  Rehabilitation may mandate treatment modes as diverse as job training, psychotherapy, or even methadone maintenance for heroin addicts.

This goal, of rehabilitation, dominated the administration of justice from the beginning of the twentieth century until the emergence of an anti-rehabilitation movement in the early 70’s.  Rehabilitation was based on an optimism that could lower recidivism rates.  At the same time rehabilitation was considered a compassionate and benevolent response to offenders, the “nothing else works” only see incapacitation as the means to deter crime or criminal activity (Schmalleger, 1999).

3. Portrayal of the American criminal law as an adversarial process is largely a myth.  Rather than trials in which opposing sides combat, most cases are resolved by a guilty plea resulting from a bargaining process.  That process involves the exchange of a plea of guilty for concessions to the defendant by the state.  Typically concessions are reduction or elimination of charges or counts, prosecutorial recommendation for a specific sentence, and concurrent sentences.  Relationships within the courtroom work group usually are more cooperative than adversarial and are marked by concern for long-term stability.

Debate centers not around the issue of guilt verses innocence, but rather on the appropriate punishment.  Socialization into the courtroom work group and plea bargaining teach the going rate for various offenses.  Plea Bargaining is usually an explicit process.  Only about one in four judges participate in felony plea bargaining and one in five in misdemeanor cases.  The practice is prohibited in some states and in the U.S. federal system.

The plea bargain is a pretrial process and is a negotiation between the prosecution and the defense in which the defense agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge or the current charge in exchange for the prosecutor’s promise to recommend a light sentence or drop other charges or make some other concession.  Plea bargaining was first used in the early 70’s as a means of managing overloaded criminal dockets.  Its main goals must be sentences close to those that would result from trial, fairness, less delay and less disparate sentences.

The defendant should not be forced to accept higher bargained sentences because he or she is in jail, is unable to afford an attorney, or is represented by a public defender that does not have the time or resources to go to trial.   Its purpose was to in some instances prevent the victims from having to testify and in others to prevent the monetary burden of trial to fall upon the community.  It is a reduction on time and resources helping the criminal justice system to flow at a steady stream (Gilsinan, 1990).


Gilsinan, J.F. (1990).  Criminology and public policy: An introduction.  Englewood           Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Schmalleger, F. (1999).  Criminology today: an integrative introduction.  Upper Saddle   River, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

Sheley, J. F. (1991).  Criminology: A contemporary handbook.  Belmont, Calif.:     Wadsworth Publishing Company.