Justification for Punishment – Sociology Essay
The concept of punishment and its practical application and justification during the past half-century have shown a marked deviance from efforts to reform and rehabilitate offenders. The four justifications for
punishment currently used in our society today are retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation and societal protection. Punishment in its very concept is favorably perceived as a retributive practice. Our society uses these four forms of punishment attempting to lower crime rates.
Retribution is the first of the four justifications for punishment I will be discussing. Retribution is defined as the moral vengeance to satisfy a society to make the offender suffer as much as the suffering caused. (Macionis pg244, 2007) This type of justification for punishment is the oldest of the four ways. This type of punishment was designed to satisfy the people’s need for a type of closure that satisfies the moral of society. In principle, punishment should be equal in severity to the deviance itself. (Macionis pg246) It all comes down to equal justice; An eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.(Macionis pg 244, 2007) 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.
The second of the four justifications for punishment is deterrence. Deterrence is the attempt to discourage crime by punishment. (Macionis pg244, 2007) This idea came about in the eighteenth century. Deterrence is a type of punishment that relies upon examples of punishment made known to everyone ahead of time before they choose to break the law. This concept is based on idea that citizens will not break the law if they think that the pain of the punishment will outweigh the pleasure of the crime. (Macionis pg244) Everyday 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 then a ticket to most citizens.
Next is justification for punishment is through rehabilitation. This program was designed to reform the offender to prevent later offenses. (Macionis pg244) This idea rose among social sciences in the nineteenth century that proved to be an effective solution. If you can control the environment that a criminal or lawbreaker of some sort lives in, you can deviate from his normal society. Reformatories or houses of correction provided settings where people could learn proper behavior. (Macionis pg245) 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 go back to their old ways. Rehabilitation is the most forgiving and positive punishment of the four justifications discussed because it promises the offender a second chance at life. Unlike retribution, which demands that the punishment fit the crime, rehabilitation tailors treatment to each offender. (Macionis pg245)
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. (Macionis pg245) 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 exection 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. (Macionis pg245)
In conclusion the four types of justification for punishment including retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and societal protection are all effective ways our society deals with lawbreakers. Each of these justifications is an attempt to protect society by ensuring proper punishment is carried out. Since crime has statistically dropped in the past 20 years we can conclude that our justice system has a positive effect on crime.
Fingarette, Herbert, 1978, “Punishment and Suffering,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association, 50, pp. 499-525.
Sociology Eleventh Addition, John Macionis, 2007.