- Critically Evaluate the Justifications for the Use of Puni...
Critically Evaluate the Justifications for the Use of Punishment in Modern Society
It is controversial and heavily disputed whether punishment
serves a function within society, and if so what this function is.
Furthermore, the type of punishment given and the reasons for it is
strongly contested. Early forms of punishment within British
society included hanging, drawn & quartered, stoning, branding
and whipping, to name a few. As society has progressed, and modern
society developed after the 1700s, there has been a general trend
towards the punishments becoming less violent in themselves and
more about controlling people, and managing the risk that people
pose to society (Durkheim, 1965).
There are two main justifications used for the implementation of
punishment, particularly of harsh punishments, such as the death
sentence in the USA (Pojman, 2004). Utilitarian views are 'forward
looking' at crime, and believe that punishments deter people from
committing further crimes and potential future offenders (Hudson,
2003; McLaughlin, Muncie & Hughes, 2003). This makes the
assumption that that crime is a rational choice on behalf of the
offender, and that it is weighed up by the gains versus the losses;
thereby, punishment makes crime less favourable as a choice. The
second justification is that punishment is a form of retribution.
Pojman (2004) stipulates that all guilty people and only guilty
people deserve to be punished, and that the severity should be
balanced, proportionate to the crime committed. So if someone
murders another person, they deserve to lose their life. Hudson
(2003) highlights that retribution is also about the victims
feeling that justice has been served and that society has taken
heed of their suffering.
A number of postulations have been made about the future of
punishment within modern society. Ferri (1968) believed that in the
future the penal system will diminish and social justice will
increase, in changing the social and physical environments and
increasing preventative legislation rather than punitive measures
to decrease crime. This works well with Braithwaite's idea on
'Reintegrative shaming' (Braithwaite, 1989). This idea is based on
the idea of the power within communities and the ability of shame
to be a powerful deterrence of crime and other anti-social
behaviour. Rather than blame and outcast people, the balance can be
addressed though a Restorative Justice approach, whereby
co-operation between the offender and the victim, in coming to a
solution that would be appropriate to help both people and restore
the damage that has been caused by the offence (Hudson, 2003). This
has been used with the Thames Valley Police (Hudson, 2003) with
relative success in helping people to make significant changes in
their lives to avert needing to enter the prison system.
Economically this is more cost effective for society.
It is possible to imagine a society which accepts some
responsibility for crime and that uses positive reinforcement and a
'positive' outlook on crime and offenders to enable them to
reintegrate to become a viable part of society. A society of this
type would benefit economically from the low costs associated with
the punishment of crime. Unfortunately humans appeared to need
retribution and a sense of fairness in equalling the pain suffered.
A society ruled totally by fear of punishment and death is a