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Comparison of Punishment in Different Social Settings

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 3945 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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A comparison between one from of punishment in two distinctively different social settings

The historical development of Criminology is an ongoing topic due to the many theories and acts which coincide together to give us todays Criminal Justice System, although this differs between countries and cultures (Vold, Bernard and Snipes, 2002). For the purpose of this assignment, a range of resources have been accessed in order to compare and explain the use of reformation as a form of punishment to two similar crimes within two different social settings. Throughout this essay the strengths and limitations of imprisonment, policies from the United Kingdom and the United States of America will be compared and explained. Although it may seem that the United Kingdom and the United States of America have their similarities, the criminal justice systems differ in immense ways, which in turn will be. The crimes and sentences of Myra Hindley and Ted Bundy will be used as a focus in order to compare their crimes and punishments received, using a range of theories selected to best fit the social settings and form of punishment. Furthermore, throughout this assignment, reference will be made towards retribution and deterrence as penal philosophies.

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Myra Hindley, alongside her lover Ian Brady, abducted, murdered and abused children together before burying their bodies amongst the Saddleworth Moors. The couple would abduct the children and take them back to their home in Manchester before killing them. It is known that one of the murders involved sexual foundations, as there were audio recordings of the sexual abuse of Lesley Ann Downey was subjected to, which was played to the court (Pettigrew, 2016).  Known together as the Moors Murderers they claimed 5 child victims aged between 10 and 17 years, in total; Between October 1963 and July 1965. Ultimately, it was the murder of Evan Edwards, aged 17 years, which lead to the arrest of the couple after Myra Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith who was also 17 years old, contacted the police after witnessing Ian Brady murder the teenager using a hatchet and strangling him, in the couples’ home. David helped the couple to clean up after the murder then once he left the house, he informed the police which lead to their capture that same evening. When the police began conducting searches, they found a safe which Brady had kept, which contained images of Lesley Ann naked, and the recordings of her desperate begging and crying for her mother (Seal, 2012). The police also discovered photos of the couple posing at various areas of the Moors, which they later deemed the burial places of some victims (Sky News, 2017). Myra Hindley was found guilty of just 2 of the murders which claimed the lives of Lesley Ann Downey aged 10years and Edward Evans aged 17 years. She was also found to be an accessory to murder for another child’s death and spent 36 years in prison on 2 concurrent life sentences prior to her death in 2002, making her the UK’s longest serving woman prisoner.

Additionally, Ted Bundy, real name Theodore Robert Bundy, was known for a long time as one of history’s most infamous serial killers as he had at least 30 victims throughout the 1970’s, across seven states of America (Dirks, 2009). However, Ted was viewed as a handsome young man and a clean-cut student of Law, with a clean criminal record, therefore even when four people thought the man described as the perpetrator could be Ted, the police dismissed him as a suspect. Mainly due to his handsome looks, he was over looked a few times as the perpetrator and was also viewed to make women an easy target as it was difficult to resist his charm, for some. Once he approached a victim, he would bludgeon them to unconsciousness before binding, raping, and killing them, then dumping their bodies in a remote location of the woods. He would also decapitate his victims and keep their skulls in his apartment as trophies. In 1975, Bundy was jailed for the first time when he was incarcerated in Utah for aggravated kidnapping and attempted criminal assault. However, he then became a suspect in a progressively longer list of unsolved homicides in multiple states when the law enforcement officers searched his car and found various weapons and items. Facing murder charges in Colorado, he engineered two dramatic escapes and committed further assaults, including three murders, before his ultimate recapture in Florida in 1978 (iBid). For the Florida homicides, he received three death sentences in two separate trials. Bundy was executed in the electric chair at Florida State Prison on January 24, 1989.

Whereas both individuals committed heinous crimes, they received very different punishments for the crimes committed due to the law in their resident countries. As for the time, both offenders committed similar crimes around the same time period. Myra Hindley of course had her partner Ian Brady whom she committed the murders whereas Ted Bundy was a solo murderer. In the UK, Myra Hindley was labelled ‘evil’ due to women being generalised as motherly figures, rather than murderers. For some time, it has been thought that women offenders are treat differently to male offenders (Roberts, 1994). In addition, Ted Bundy was not viewed as a murderer to some, due to his ‘good looks’, however before he was caught, the unknown stirred up a moral panic, especially for young girls, which has a lot to do with the social construction of crime (Rafter, 1990). Furthermore, whilst Myra was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences, Ted was executed for his crimes via the electric chair. Zimring (2003) suggests that American capital punishment has undergone a “symbolic transformation” over the past two decades. Rather than being an extreme display of state power, he argues that the victims’ rights movement and a new discourse involving the psychological concept of “closure” breathed new life into the American death penalty (Alder, 2015).

A year prior to Myra Hindley’s conviction, the death penalty was abolished by the Labour Government at the time, under the Murder Act 1965, which instead introduced mandatory life imprisonment as its replacement (Gurnham, 2003). Many people tried for this offence, notably duellists, were convicted of the lesser offence of manslaughter. In 1965, the UK conducted the last hanging and abolished the death penalty (Evans, 1995). This was mainly due to many ‘criminals’ being subjected to the death penalty but then later being found not guilty of their apparent crimes. Although this made victims of crime feel insignificant, therefore the Victims Right’s movement was created and came into notion during the 1970’s. In the 1970’s, policy makers of crime control were faced with considerable problems, as the crime rates in the UK were becoming a major political issue. Between 1752 and 1832 the Murder Act dictated that that the bodies those executed as murderers should either be delivered to the surgeons to be “dissected and anatomised” or hung in chains (Beattie, 1986). Retributivism is a philosophy of punishment which punishes for a crime already committed, referring back to what was done, and is often misjudged as extreme or severe chastisement (Amatrudo, 2008). Furthermore, Cavadino and Dignan (2007) state that retributive tariffs are much more lenient than ‘Lex Talionis’, meaning ‘an eye for an eye’. Retribution gages ‘just desert’, consistency and proportionality as it’s central features, believing that all criminals deserve to be disciplined in proportion to their crime (Brooks, 2012). Cavadino and Dignan (2007) stated that the idea of retributivism is displayed using tariffs which match the brutality or severity of punishment to the crime which has been committed. Furthermore, this philosophy of punishment is focused significantly on fault rather than merit. Brooks (2012: 15) stated that “a criminal deserves to leave prison early due to good behaviour’, which supports merit. However, retributivists suggest that occasionally some individuals deserve results based on demerit. Retribution plays a large part in the Criminal Justice Act (1991) as it uses the severity of the offences committed as a threshold for custodial and community sentence (Easton and Piper, 2012), which was obvious within this case. 

Deterrence is a Utilitarian philosophy of punishment which aims to achieve ‘maximum pleasure with minimum pain’. Meaning that the threat of being punished should be avoided, deterring from future criminal acts. The deterrence theory believes that all humans are rational and with this in mind, aims to reduce lawbreaking (Brooks, 2012). Consistency is a core focus within the deterrence theory, protecting against harsh or excessive punishments but allowing proportionality to still be a focus also, as the sentence must be proportionate to the offence committed in order to deter future crimes (Easton and Piper, 2012). Deterrence can be explained and understood through general and individual deterrence. General deterrence seeks to punish in order to prevent the remaining society from committing a similar offence. Whereas individual deterrence seeks to prevent an individual from repeating their criminal actions (Cavadino and Dignan, 2007). However, compared to proportionality within deterrence, ‘exemplary sentences’ within general deterrence can create an issue towards proportionality (Easton and Piper, 2007: 106). This implies the individuals who are sentenced are used to set an example for the remaining community, although this can ultimately mean that some offenders are given disproportionate sentences.  Although it has been argued that capital punishment acted as a form of deterrence promoting public welfare, evidence proved that this method was not a reliable or humane process (Easton and Piper, 2007; Alder, 2017). Subsequently, as cited in Cavadino and Dignan (2007: 51), Beccaria was equally against capital punishment, stated that this form of punishment was ‘cruel and inefficient as a deterrent’. In 1970s America, debates focused on the deterrent impacts of executions on crime, particularly on that of crime of homicide (Ehrlich, 1975; 1977). These early econometric studies were conclusively challenged on their methodological weaknesses (Blumstein, Cohen, & Nagin, 1978; Passell & Taylor, 1977) and several scholars since have concluded that there is no Capital Punishment and “Closure” clear evidence to suggest that the death penalty is any more effective than life imprisonment (Donohue & Wolfers, 2006; Peterson & Bailey, 1998).

Retribution is not concerned with the future, as it predominately focuses on demerit (Brooks, 2012). Furthermore, retribution uses a tariff system which dictates a sentence length in years, yet when a prisoner is released under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, they are released on a ‘license’ period (Easton and Piper, 2002). However, this means that once released, they are still serving their punishment which does not work with retribution. Additionally, upholding Hindley’s sentence on deterrence is potentially problematic as it was general deterrence which was used to create an example out of Hindley’s case, with the aim of deterring any similar crimes being committed in the future (Cavadino and Dignan, 2007). However, this was arguably not a working deterrence method within the UK as there have since been cases of multiple murder cases after Hindley’s incarceration, such as Fred and Rosemary West’s crimes. The couple abused and murdered at least 12 people including their eldest daughter, Fred’s step-daughter and ex-wife, then buried them under their home in between 1967 and 1987 (AETN, 2012). Therefore, this implies that deterrence sentencing may not work. Also, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 altered after Hindley’s case, to make sure that convicted murderers had a minimum sentence length, which consequently means that offenders are aware of how much time they will serve in prison prior to qualifying for early release (House of Commons, 2015). Today it is argued that retribution has increasingly become a more prominent feature of American jurisprudence, particularly as it relates to the ultimate penal sanction (Acker, 2007). In fact, “most Americans who favour the death penalty do so primarily for retributive reasons” (Gross, 1998, p. 1453 as cited in Bandes, 2008, p. 17). Often considered synonymous with “revenge” in death penalty debates, retribution “is a passionate reaction to the violations of a rule, norm or law that evokes a desire for punishment for the violator” (Durkheim, 1893/1964). However in contrast, revenge is personal and knows no upper limit (Bedau, 2008).

Alongside the UK, the USA tend to also focus on retribution: what the offender has done, rather than looking forward to how they could be rehabilitated (Alder, 2015). However, within the US unlike the current UK’s policy, capital punishment remains a legal form of punishment and is currently used by 30 states, the federal government and the military. Florida, in particular, used public hanging under a local jurisdiction, overseen and performed by the sheriffs of the counties where the crimes took place. In the early colonial times, punishments such as dunking, stoning, and whipping were designed to humiliate the offender and ultimately lead towards their repentance. Ironically, we still see this desire to make offenders remorseful for their criminal acts but more so for the victims of crime than to a higher power (Quamar, 2018). However, in 1923, the Florida Legislature passed a law replacing hanging with the electric chair and stated that all future execution will be performed under state jurisdiction inside prisons. The electric chair became a subject of strong controversy in the 1990s after three executions received considerable media attention and were labelled as “botched” by opponents (Jesse Tafero in 1990, Pedro Medina in 1997, and Allen Lee Davis in 1999). While most states switched to the lethal injection, many politicians in Florida opposed giving up “Old Sparky“, seeing it as a “deterrent”. Finally, after the Davis execution, lethal injection was enabled and became the default method. Inmates, however, may still choose electrocution. Today, the only execution chamber in Florida is located at Florida State Prison in Starke. When sentenced, male convicts who receive the death penalty are incarcerated at either Florida State Prison itself, or at Union Correctional Institution next door to Florida State Prison, while female convicts who are sentenced to death are incarcerated at Lowell Correctional Institution north of Ocala. Inmates are moved to the death row at Florida State Prison when their death warrant is signed.

To conclude, the Criminal Justice System used within both the United Kingdom and the United States of America has rapidly changed throughout history. Although both countries remain predominately focused on implementing retribution. Although some critics have argued that the philosophy of Retribution is outdated and implies that as society grows and becomes more civilised, then civilians should outgrow the need or their desire to seek revenge. As the British government began to control more and more of the justice system, retribution became even more important as a sentencing philosophy (Taylor, 1981). The UK has shifted away from capital punishment, although the USA currently use this method of punishment in 31 states, although Florida only have one execution chamber which is located within the main prison. 


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