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Reasons We Punish

NCJ Number
Journal of Humanics Volume: 7 Issue: 2 Dated: (1979) Pages: 65-78
F B Raymond
Date Published
14 pages
The therapeutic, preventive, and punitive ideologies that society uses in responding to crime are analyzed, and the rationalizations that are usually given for punishment, i.e., deterrence, retribution, and incapacitation, are examined.
There are three possible ways a society can cope with crime, including punishing the offender, treating the offender, and preventing crime through manipulation of the factors that produce it. Specific ideologies which govern a society's response to those who violate its laws may be discerned. In the therapeutic or treatment ideology the offender is viewed as being 'sick' in that he is the victim of social and physiological forces or of defective conditioning of his personality. The objective in this ideology is that of making the offender 'well' by treating the personal or social factors that have brought about criminal behavior. The preventive ideology views the offender as 'poor,' or caught in the clutches of environmental or personal circumstances that lead him to commit crime. The emphasis is on changing the circumstances before the individual commits crime. In the punitive ideology the offender is viewed as being 'bad' and a threat to the victim and society in general. The punitive ideology predominates the American criminal justice system today. The utilization of punishment is justified in terms of deterrence, retribution, or incapacitation. The deterrence position maintains that if the offender is punished, not only the offender by also those who see his example are deterred from further offenses. The second rationalization, retribution, argues that when society is injured by crime, the offender is expected to pay a debt to society. The final rationalization, incapacitation, raises serious questions because it ensures lawful behavior only while imprisonment lasts and does nothing concerning behavior when the offender is released. It is suggested herein that punishment is ineffective in terms of any rationalization given for its use, and that punishment is maintained because it serves certain social functions involving group cohesion, rules clarification, and social change. Fifteen references are provided in the paper.