Varying Rationales And Ethical Frameworks For Punishment

2123 words - 8 pages

What would the criminal justice system be without punishment? Perhaps, the criminal justice system would not serve a function or cease to exist. Punishment is one of the main facets of the criminal justice system. It holds such significance that it even reflects the beliefs and values of a particular society. Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881) once said “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” (Pollock, 2010: 315). Punishment has been around since the beginning of civilization. With its rich history, the concept of punishment has been analyzed by some of the most renowned theorists, some of which include Jeremy Bentham, Cesare Beccaria, Adolphe Quetelet and André-Michel Guerry (Pollock, 2010: 318). Once found guilty of an offense the type of punishment must be determined. There are many different rationales used to answer why it is necessary to inflict punishment. Rationales for punishment include retribution, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. To better understand these rationales ethical systems such as utilitarianism, ethical formalism and ethics of care can be used. The general public should be knowledgeable about punishment, even more so should professionals in the criminal justice field because they are directly linked to it in some way.
At one point in history punishment and incapacitation were seen as the only logical ways to respond to crime (Pollock, 2010: 318). The majority of people used a religious perspective when viewing criminals. Criminals were believed to be sinners with no ability to change their behavior (Pollock, 2010: 318). From early on punishment was a topic that demanded an intellectual understanding. Two major criminologists from the Classical School were Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and Cesare Beccaria (1738-1794). They viewed the criminal as rational and as having free will. Therefore, they saw the threat of punishment as a deterrent (Pollock, 2010: 318). Neoclassicists such as Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874) and André-Michel Guerry (1802-1866) believed that not everyone should be punished for an offense. For instance, they felt that insane persons and juveniles could not be held entirely responsible for their actions and, therefore, believed that they should be exempt from punishment (Pollock, 2010: 318).
The controversy surrounding punishment has made it challenging to fully understand or define. According to one author (Leiser, 1986: 198), five elements are essential to the definition of punishment. To begin with, there needs to be at least two persons, one who inflicts the punishment and the one who is punished. The person who inflicts the punishment causes a certain harm to the person who is being punished and has been authorized, under a system of rules or laws, to do so. The person who is being punished has been judged by a representative of that authority to have done what he or she is prohibited to do. Lastly, the harm inflicted upon the person who is being punished is...

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