Term Paper: Punishment

Pages: 6 (1979 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper

Punishment

It has always been part and parcel of civilized society that there are laws and rules governing the conduct of citizens. These laws and rules help the social world to function in an orderly fashion. In addition, laws and rules are also to the benefit of those making up a social community, in terms of a mutual understanding of conduct. In other words, by having a mutual understanding of laws and rules, people within any given society also share a mutual understanding of how to treat other members of said society, along with the norms of conduct that would ensure the optimal functioning of the world in which an individual exists. Indeed, it is unlikely that any social setting would survive without a certain set of rules. Hence, the transgression of such rules would also mean that an appropriate response by the rulers of the society in question. Appropriate punishments that fit certain transgressions provide reinforcements in terms of a mutual understanding among all citizens that certain rules and laws govern that society. Of course, some rules and laws govern all of humanity, such as the prohibition on murder and theft, which are universally regarded as crimes against others. Each society also has its own set of unique rules of conduct meriting less severe punishments in terms of transgression. In any case, crime and punishment have been part of society ever since human beings began to form societies. This, however, does not mean that specific concerns about how crime and punishment should be conducted is in any way a simple matter. This is abundantly clear when even minor research is conducted on the many theories of crime and punishment in existence today. A case in point is the reasons for administering punishment, which could complicate matters even further. In some cases, for example, the purpose of punishment is simply a response to transgression. In other cases, however, punishment functions to safeguard the society in question against similar criminal activities. This begs the question: How do we respond to certain criminal activities, and is any response better than any other? Perhaps, in a civilized world like the one in which we live, it is best to use a combination of approaches to punishment, each the result of full critical thinking and appropriate to the criminal activity in question. The problem with a uniform approach to punishment, for example, tends to be that a simple approach is used to apply to a complicated society. Hence, it is probably better that more than one approach is applied. Indeed, not all cases merit the same approach.

In the case of dangerous criminal activities such as rape, for example, there is merit in investigating the likelihood of recidivism should the perpetrator be released. Hence, regardless of whether the activity was in fact committed with premeditation or in "the heat of the moment," it is safer for the social environment in question to remove the perpetrator from the environment. The primary consideration, therefore, is the removal of current and future danger from society rather than offering rehabilitation or even appropriate punishment to the perpetrator.

Murder and assault could be said to work in the same way. A murderer or assault perpetrator who is likely to commit similar crimes in the future is more likely to be removed from society for the likelihood of posing a similar danger to society in the future than being punished for the crime itself.

This is also the case in terms of bail applications. In courts of law today, bail is offered to an accused person who is not likely to pose a danger to society during his time away from incarceration. The bail amount is also related to how great a danger is assumed. Denial of bail is most likely in cases where an accused is assumed to pose a clear and likely danger to society while awaiting trial. Again, murder, rape, and assault are among the criminal activities most likely to be denied bail or to receive very high bail amounts, depending on the danger being posed.

The case of the death penalty is admittedly extreme, but could be said to function on the same principle. The person being punished in such a way is not corrected. He is permanently removed from the environment in which he caused harm. Certainly, many arguments have been posed for or against this form of punishment. This is not the purpose of its discussion here. The point is that the current and future danger of releasing the person back into society is removed. When considering the concept from this point-of-view, it is clearly not the appropriate response for all criminal activity.

When considering this in terms of all criminal activity, one can certainly not apply the likelihood of future danger to all criminal activities. In the case of juvenile offenders, for example, a person is often more likely to benefit from appropriate punishment rather than being removed from society, either permanently or temporarily. For a young person especially, delinquent behavior could be the result of many influences, including peer or gang activity. Furthermore, a young person is more likely to respond when his or her superiors administer punishment as a direct response to criminal activity. Indeed, it is more likely that such a person would respond to punishment by becoming a better citizen in the future. One thing to keep in mind about young people is that they are yet flexible. Many of them experiment with less than wholesome activities such as petty theft or property damage. In such a case, the punishment should certainly fit the crime and be administered with the aim of rehabilitation.

This does not apply only to young people, but also to first-time offenders or non-repeat petty offenders. In such cases, it could be said to be more beneficial to society to offer punishment as rehabilitation, since such a person most likely committed the crime as a result of misjudgment or in desperation. Hence, society would benefit from reabsorbing a rehabilitated, better citizen rather than having a non-repeat offender removed to prevent some imagined future danger.

A person who would disagree with this view might start by focusing on the statements regarding juvenile offenders. Such offenders, according to the counter argument, are indeed likely to offend again, especially where gang or peer activity is concerned. Indeed, it could be regarded as more "fun" or "cooler" by a young person to commit offenses like petty theft or property damage than to become a productive citizen of society. Furthermore, these offenses can easily escalate into far worse offenses such as murder or rape if the juvenile is simply slapped on the wrist and released. This is especially likely in the case of repeat offenders, of which there are many among juvenile delinquents. It is therefore a far more effective response to remove the danger of these criminals from society altogether than to release them and let their crimes escalate.

Furthermore, a secondary claim to counter the idea of the punishment fitting the crime might be that there is no certain way to determine if an offense will be repeated. This is especially the case for first-time offenders. Whether desperation, peer pressure, or the "heat of the moment" was the cause of the initial offense, minor punishment might simply motivate a repetition of the initial offense or even of worse offenses. Again, a more effective response in terms of safeguarding society would be to remove the criminal from the likelihood of offending again.

On the strength of these arguments, one might say that the best response to any criminal activity is that any breach of the moral or legal code in any given civilization is dangerous and could be repeated, regardless of any individual conditions, circumstances, or motivations. Hence, the best possible response is to remove all likelihood of the offense being committed again by summarily removing the individual from society and incarcerating him or her. This would also simplify the legal process and result in safer living conditions for those whose concern it is to remain law abiding citizens.

My first concern in response to these arguments would be overcrowded prisons. The system is already strained beyond its capacity to hold incarcerated individuals. Many of these are precisely those perpetrators of petty offenses that would respond better to rehabilitation programs or similar responses. Simply incarcerating all who offend, regardless of the type or severity of the crime is not only impractical, but also highly immoral.

In response to the argument that no accurate assessment can be made of likelihood to reoffend, I would suggest that alternative methods of response be used. Certainly the severity of a crime can be assessed without too much difficulty. Certainly a serial murder spree by a hardened criminal is somewhat worse than the first-time theft of $10 from a workplace kitty for the purpose of providing a starving family with a loaf of bread.

There are many possible responses to petty criminal offenses. I… [END OF PREVIEW]

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