Today’s criminal system has four justifications for punishment; these justifications for punishment are Retribution, Deterrence, Rehabilitation, and Social Protection. Retribution: “an act of moral vengeance by which society makes the offender suffer as much as the suffering caused by the crime,” Deterrence: “the attempt to discourage criminality through the use of punishment,” Rehabilitation: “a program for reforming the offender to prevent later offenses,” and Social Protection: “rendering an offender incapable of further offenses temporarily by imprisonment or permanently by execution”.
The following paragraphs will explain each in further detail and address the history of each justification. Near the end an explanation as to the effectiveness of these justifications on society will be given. Retribution being one of the first forms of punishment referring back to the bible even with the words “an eye for an eye” is where we will begin. This type of justification for punishment is the oldest of the four ways. Crime since the middle ages was considered an offense against not only society but God as well and that is upset the natural order of society as a whole.
So it was the belief that punishment should reflect the crime being equal in harshness. One example of how retribution was used is Jeffery Dahmer’s punishment for the conviction and 15 confirmed murders throughout the course of his life. Dahmer was sentenced to 15 life sentences totaling 937 years imprisonment. This of course did nothing to make the offender a better member of society; however it is still popular today as a means of punishment. Deterrence is the attempt to discourage crime by punishment.
Deterrence came about in the eighteenth century when society deemed that anyone capable of rational though would clearly not commit a crime if they knew that the punishment for said crime would outweigh any of the benefits of committing said crime. In other words they would not be dumb enough to commit a crime when they knew that they would get in to more trouble than it was worth to commit the crime. Every day on the way to work you have a choice to leave early reaching your destination without breaking the law by speeding. If you are late, you might choose to speed knowing the consequences of speeding ahead of time.
A speeding ticket may be a worthy risk to someone who is late to work for the third day in a row. Murder on the other hand may not be a worthy risk since the pain of Murder’s punishment is much worse than a ticket to most citizens. Deterrence was meant to stave off harsher punishments such as death in hopes the imprisonment would scare them off from committing the crime in the first place. Rehabilitation, this program came up in the nineteenth century and was designed to reform the offender to prevent later offenses when sociologist saw that there was some correlation between criminals and their environments.
They believed that if one could control the environment that a criminal or lawbreaker of some sort lives in, then they could be ‘taught’ to confirm to acceptable societal norms. Places such as reformatories and houses of corrections were implemented. One common example of how rehabilitation is used today is when a drunk driver is convicted he may be sentenced to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings rather than jail time. Once the citizen has completed rehab, through the proper reformatory chosen for them, they can choose to stay on the same path of freedom contributing to society or revert to their old ways.
Some offenders were sentenced to probation where they had to report to a probation officer and had to follow certain rules to avoid incarceration. Somewhere sent to military style ‘boot camps’ with the hope that hard work and military style discipline would reform these rejects of society. Social Protection the fourth justification for punishment came about in an effort to protect society from violent criminals. In effect it has increased the amount of offenders being incarcerated in the United States today.
At present 2 million detainees house the prison facilities as a result of the tougher laws and sanctions being enforced today. People do not want these criminals on the streets and see the only choice available to them is to keep them in prison. Do these tougher laws or any of these four justifications for punishment work effectively to reduce the amount of crime in the United States? It is the belief of many that the answer to this question is no. According to a study done by Pizarro, J. M. , Stenius, V. M. K. & Pratt, T entitled Supermax Prisons Myths, Realities, and the Politics of Punishment in American Society. The effects of these justifications of punishment on this society have caused damage. People are more concerned with getting even, retribution, than trying to find a solution to the deviant behavior that causes offenders to commit these crimes. In response to the misguided views of society prisons such as Supermax prisons are being built to further isolate criminals from society and in turn are causing further mental damage as well as deviant behavior.
They are not rehabilitating these offenders and are increasing the odds of a person to become a repeat offender. Still society continues to place these offenders in these institutions and make the subject to a system that is not geared to helping find a solution but only to stave off the problem. (Criminal Justice Policy Review, 2006) The final option for a justification for punishment is the term societal protection. This favors the society by rendering the offender incapable of further offenses temporarily through imprisonment or permanently by execution.
This option of punishment differs from rehabilitation in that no special treatment is given to the offender in hopes to change him. His surrounding is a set area in a cell or execution chamber that many have used before him which protects society. This method can help be helpful to the offender giving the offender a chance to reform and a promised second chance. The United States currently incarcerates close to 2. 2 million offenders in jail. As “in the Times explains, the crime rate has gone down in recent years, but the number of offenders locked up across the country has gone up, tripling since 1980.
Laws need to be passed allowing for Rehabilitation services to do their jobs effectively without the threat of retribution. Justifications such as retribution, deterrence, and social protection should be the last ditch effort for offenders who have exhausted all other methods of conforming to society and are beyond all hope of reform. If we can see our way clear to making these individuals better then society as a whole will benefit from reduced crime in our country.