Retributive, Utilitarian and Rehabilitative Justice Compared

The three justice theories or views, which include utilitarianism, rehabilitative or a retributive style of justice, are multifaceted. It is not easy to sum the aspects of each without lengthy discussion. Therefore, I will try to maximize my efforts and offer concise answers. It is fair to note that my belief system correlates strongly with retributive style justice theory. Nevertheless, I will compare all three theories accordingly. First, I would like to debate the utilitarian theory of justice. Certainly, the assumption would be that a practical approach to justice would produce a sensible result.

However, I think that the term utilitarian is misleading because the major focus within this theory is “forward-looking” or placing emphasis on “reform, prevention, and deterrence” (Pojman 119). Of course, to prevent or deter crime is an attractive choice. Yet, I do not agree that prevention or deterrence will be successful. For instance, taunting the public with threats of the death penalty does not seem effective at deterring violent crimes. Then again, you have to implement the penalty to have it work.

In a study conducted between 1973 and 1995, and according to extensive research, “only 5 percent of all people who had been given the death penalty since 1973 have been executed” (Butterfield). As a result, this leads me to believe that if the threat of the death penalty is not working, neither is the method of deterrence. Additionally, the idea of reform might supersede the handing down of equal punishment to fit the crime committed. An example of that might be that a focus on rehabilitative measures could fail to execute justice on the victim’s behalf.

Is it justifiable to treat the criminal instead of punishing? I am not convinced that it is of the greatest interest in society to disregard the crime by helping only the criminal. As an example, if a man is mentally imbalanced and he commits murder, should we treat him medically or put him to death? The victim would most likely want the punishment to fit the crime. Not to mention, that the criminal is now a menace to all of society as well. Personally, I think that the utilitarian way is equivalent to saying its okay to cause harm as long as you are sorry or incapable of controlling your actions.

If that is the rule, then where is the incentive for all members of society to follow the law? The utilitarian theory does not provide for an evenhanded form of justice to all parties affected. Next, I would like to analyze the rehabilitative theory. Although I have already made comment in regards to rehabilitative justice, within the utilitarian model, I would like to investigate this style of justice further. For instance, the explanation that “crime is a disease” does not sit well with me (Pojman 120).

The thought that a “punishment temporarily suppresses adverse behavior” does not work for me either (Pojman 120). If an individual is so ill that they cannot be trusted in society to refrain from harming others, then perhaps, they do not belong in society, period! Certainly, I am emphasizing violent crime and petty crime would be less severe. Still, is it more essential to help this lost soul or protect the common folk that willingly and successfully conform to the welfare of the community? After all, who is being punished, the victim or the criminal, what is the objective here?

With that said, I would like to challenge the supporters of rehabilitative justice to explain to the parents of Chelsea King that their daughter’s murderer needs therapy and not the death penalty (San Diego News Network). In addition, socialization of a criminal is not producing good results. Our text states, “There are limits to what socialization and medical technology can do” (Pojman 121). I agree and anyone that has taken a basic psychology class should be able to comprehend this restriction or limit to rehabilitating criminals.

I believe that common sense and research support that rehabilitation is neither the solution nor helpful with a majority of career criminals or violent offenders. Consequently, the priority should be the victim of crime and not the offender. This rehabilitative theory is completely backwards. I will add that I believe when the situation permits, punishment, and rehabilitation should coincide. Such as a thief that is, doing time for a nonviolent crime could simultaneously benefit from therapy and self-improvement. However, with the poor conditions of contemporary jails and prisons that is unlikely to occur.

I do have an ideology as to improving the effectiveness in the prison/jail system, but I will refrain from going into that topic. For now, I will entrust to the belief that violent offenders should be kept away from society. That type of criminal is the major threat. However, the proper way of carrying out that task is in coordination with some of my prison/jail reform ideas as well. My third analysis is regarding retributive justice. I am fond of this notion. Specifically, I appreciate jus talionis way of thinking (Pojman 113).

What could be fairer to the victim and even the offender than an eye for eye type justice? This allows for no more or no less in a penalty perspective. Yet, I think it is correct to mention, the true meaning behind jus talionis is most co relational to the penalty fits the crime; however, I feel that the concept of jus talionis promotes a basis for demanding an eye for an eye type sentence. Certainly, the due process of law would continue to hold merit and careful examination is ideal to catch all mistakes, but I believe that this ideology warrants the fairest outcome (CriminalGovernment. com).

Even the bible supports a retributive style of justice, “It is better for one man to die than for an entire people to perish” [John 10:51] (Pojman 113). In addition, I agree, “For if justice and righteousness perish, there is no longer any value in men’s living on the earth” (Pojman 113). What happens if all value is lost by allowing the criminal to take privilege over the law-abiding citizen? In addition, why would others follow the rules if the outcome between criminal and victim were similar or even worse imbalanced? Justice, by most people’s ideology, includes what is a fair dealing to all and to the individual.

I would not want to obey the rules and then watch another member of the community break them but go unpunished for their bad deed. Then again, some may argue that it is not possible to punish the criminal in the exact way that they deserve. Therefore, I say that if you cannot perform the exact act of injustice or lex talionis on the criminal then make it equally harsh (Pojman 114). If a crime involves loss of life then the offender should lose their life as a result. It makes no sense, to me, to grant special treatment to someone, once all reasonable doubt is removed, and spare the life of a murderer.

I think that one of the major flaws in the justice system is that it fails to follow through. Thus, adhering to the laws and showing the community that consequences are real will not only punish crime but deter it as well. Idle threats cannot provide the same effect. Hence, it is fair to make a proven criminal pay for his actions. Finally, it would serve society well to impose a punishment that is equivalent to the crime or the “seriousness of the offense” (Pojman 116). Accordingly, my final argument is in favor of retributive justice because it is closest to an equal value system.

The victim and the offender are dealt the same hand. This approach makes certain that no one fairs better than the other does. After all, justice is most representative of what is also fair. Even though fairness is not synonymous with the term justice, society appears to be happy when they accompany one another. It would be wise to continue improving the justice system along that continuum. One last thing, as an afterthought to these three theories, if society wants to stop, reduce, or prevent crime, then perhaps, the answer is deeply rooted in its origin.

Of course, this falls into the utilitarian theory category. As well, I recognize that numerous studies, theories, and strategies are proposed regularly as to why, how, or where crime stems from, but what progress is being made to nip it in the bud. I suppose my point is that a large volume of crime might be preventable by merely switching the value system. Because crime is evident in all communities rich or poor then perhaps that is telling of where the true problem lies. All of society needs a revamp.

Not the justice system solely, but a major campaign against mediocre or poor behavior nationwide is the identifiable problem. Changing attitudes and values would not only prevent or reduce crime but also render rehabilitation less necessary because it would not need to reach that level. The only dilemma is that it would take the magnitude of wiping the slate clean to be effective. Therefore, sadly, the only viable solution is to keep replacing the band-aid that holds it all together. With that said, I think it is imperative to distribute justice in the structure of the retributive theory.