The History And Evolution Of Punishment For Crime

2630 words - 11 pages

The incarceration rate in the United States has continued to climb over the past twenty years making it one of the highest in the world. Police officers have been going to work trying to put away people who are breaking the law, but why do criminals continue to do so when they know they have a good chance of getting caught? Crime has been around since societies have evolved and every society has had their own way of dealing with criminal behavior. From early tribal times where the thinking was an eye for an eye, to medieval times when people who stole a loaf of bread would be put to death by being hung, and today with a court system that decides the fate of a criminal. Throughout history the ways of punishing people have changed pretty dramatically and the theories of how punishment should be handed out has had an influence on the way we run our system today. There have been many thoughts on the root of the crime problem, some believe that there is a criminal gene and some believe its all learned behavior, but it still seems today that even the threat of being put to death for a crime doesn’t stop people from committing them. In today’s society the ends outweigh the means and people will go to extreme measures to have a piece of the pie, so we must continue to try and deter these criminals through the threat of punishment.
Early tribal societies had primitive legal systems which were maintained through norms and traditions. They had no written laws, just the norms that had been passed down from person to person throughout hundreds of years. An example is Hammurabi’s code, an eye for an eye. Whatever crime someone commits the same crime shall be committed against that original person, this was the way to solve or punish crimes. Another example is from the Hittite code that states, “If anyone steals a ram, they used to give 30 sheep: he shall give 5 ewes, 5 wethers and 5 lambs. And he shall look to his house for it” (Hoffner 1997:71, Skoll pg 26). Unlike in today’s societies these examples show that there is no one above the law and that there is an exact consequence for the crime. There is no plea bargaining for a lesser charge and there is no first, second, or third degree of murder or any other crime. In the United States today the president can pardon a criminal of a crime if he feels he wants to, showing that the president can be above the law. This may be a reason why people do commit crimes today because they know they can get away with more and do less time in some cases. Although these are primitive times, the set rules are not to be changed or broken; there is a direct punishment for separate crimes which everyone knows. In today’s society a person could be put on death row for murder while another receives twenty years or less. There are no loopholes in the primitive system, all a person needs today is money to pay for a good lawyer. The people of our time believe that we have a fair justice system, who gives out equal and right...

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