What Justifies The Infliction Of Punishment On People Criminology Essay

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In the following assignment I am going to produce a workshop report on Prisons and Imprisonment as I am a believer that punishment can only be legitimate if it is perceived as morally justified. The workshop report that I decided to conduct provides a brief overview of what social roles punishment fulfill and then discusses the key points of the lecture. Reading the workshop, I understood that punishment justifications are generally divided into two main perspectives. On the one hand we have the consequentialists and, as we will see there are a variety of means (deterrence, rehabilitation and incapacitation) and retributivists on the other (just desserts).

Retributivism (after 'retribution') is a backward-looking theory instead of directly considering the future good. Retributivism justifies punishment as to be the result of a crime. It is based on the idea eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. An attractive feature of retribution is that it holds the idea that both offenders and victims have rights. Criminals, according to retributivism, deserve the punishment because in some way, evil for evil somehow make a right. According to retributivism, the severity of punishment should be proportionate to the gravity of the offence. Moreover, retributivism argues that applies fairly and equally to all of us as long as we all live in the same equilibrium followed by the same norms and values.

During my study I have tried to compare reductivism-retributivism, because I was very interested in their differences. Thus, I have concluded that even though reductivism seems 'softer', it always finds it difficult to encompass the notion of rights, even when it comes to providing innocent people with the right not to be punished. On the contrary, retributivism follows the principle that it is immoral and definitely wrong to punish non-offenders (Cavadino, 2004).

Throughout the workshop I have found that retribution punishes people as being equal. However, this would be right if people were genuinely equal sharing the same advantages "Detected offenders typically start from a position of social disadvantage" (Cavadino, 2004). Thus, how come unequal citizens be equally punished? Furthermore, even though retributive punishment tries to inflict equality restoring the balance, it actually increases inequality rather than do the opposite.

On the contrary, consequentialists approaches incline to justify the use of punishment on the basis of what it will accomplish in the future. These forward-looking theories are in general based on utilitarianism which basically is what Jeremy Bentham has observed 'the greatest happiness of the greater number' (Hudson, 2003: 19).

Hence, if punishment takes place, future crime will be less than if no penalty was inflicted. Furthermore, it is a moral action against criminals. According to this utilitarian approach the main goal of punishment and the consequence that it seeks is generally to prevent or reduce crime. The workshop suggests that this can be achieved by deterrence (putting people off), rehabilitation (improving people) and finally by incapacitation (removing the possibility of offending).

Deterrence based on utilitarian theories, is a crime reduction method and its main perspective is that if you cause someone's fear, then, he will be afraid to offend. The workshop separates deterrence into general and individual. Hence, general deterrence justifies punishment with the rationale that dissuades others from following the offender's example, whereas individual deterrence aims to make the delinquent not to reoffend.

Reading about deterrence, I have concluded that both general and individual have limitations (Hirsch, 1999). Deterrence suggests that punishment should inflict based on certainty and severity. If that is the case, how do we decide how severe a punishment should be, so as to make people decide whether or not to commit a crime? Furthermore, is it not likely for people to be deterred differently with disparate severity level? Furthermore, if we take for granted that offenders make decisions based on rational choice (rational choice theory), it would be essential to understand that not all offences are rationally assessed. For instance offenders may be ignorant of the penalty or the offence had a significant degree of emotion and therefore is non-rational (Newburn, 2007).

As for the individual deterrence, we should be aware of the fact that it shows no evidence that punishment prevents reoffending. For example, many research evidence show that many criminals are not deterred by their punishment (Wilson, 2005:18). According to that, even though huge numbers of offenders have been sentenced to lengthy imprisonment, yet there is no evidence supporting that harsh punishment prevents reoffending. Furthermore, as Hudson notes deterrence is on shaky ethical ground about its fairness (Hudson, 2003). Thus he explains that individual deterrence allows the innocent to be punished so that to remind others not to offend. To conclude, my opinion is that even though deterrence sometimes reduces crime the association between crime and deterrence remains uncertain at best and thus probably only the most severe and draconian punishment can influence crime after all (Siegel, 2004).

Continuing the workshop, I have read about rehabilitation or reform. Rehabilitation implements punishment by applying treatment to the offender so that he is made capable to return back to the society. Those who support reform (positivists), claim that this method is more like a treatment model that views criminal behaviour not as freely willed action (rational choice) but as a consequence of some kind of mental disorder which, in turn, should be treated and not punished. Furthermore, as Cavadino suggests "it is an opportunity to provide effective reformative training and treatment" (Cavadino, 2004:37).

According to that, I believe that punishing people for behaviours beyond their control is both wrong and cruel. During the lecture I realized that rehabilitation is viewed as a humane approach compared to the "harshness" of incapacitation and deterrence. The therapeutic approach of the rehabilitation programs attempt to create law-abiding citizens, usually by no punitive means, but this is not to say that offenders are receiving lenient penalties. The key point of the lecture was that rehabilitation is based on the belief that punishment can reduce crime by improving the offender's character/behaviour. Thus this improvement makes offenders less likely to re-offend.

The interesting point of the workshop is the surprisingly enough evidence supporting the rehabilitation's effectiveness. To be specific, a burgeoning literature conducted by Gendreau and Ross (1987) and McGuire, (1995) indicates that certain programmes and reforming techniques have already been proved to have significant effect reducing reoffending (Cavadino, 2004:38). Furthermore, an equally important feature of rehabilitation is that treatment measures enable and assist offender to improve their behaviour rather than force them. This is often by conforming them to the consequences and social unacceptability of their offending.

However, there are also a number of shortcomings. First of all, many believe that rehabilitation is an expensive way of making bad people worse. According to that, Edward Garnier, the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, thinks imprisoning criminals "is hugely expensive and not working" (www.timesonline.co.uk).

Furthermore, opponents of reform claim that rehabilitation fails its purpose, since recidivism rates are high. In particular, recidivism rates goes up to 56% within two years and 73% in seven "…70 per cent of prisoners are convicted of another crime within two years of being released from prison" (www.independent.co.uk).

Throughout my reading, I faced a controversial issue related to re-conviction and sentence. Thus, during the report my opinion had been changing constantly on whether should criminals be punished for their past crimes-accordingly to what is deserved, or be subjective to future-orientated treatment programs and released when rehabilitated.

To conclude, I have found very difficult to decide whether 'reform' approach reduces crime. Certainly, we cannot neglect that there are evidence that some rehabilitative programmes work. However, we should not also avoid that recidivism rates are high. According to that, I strongly believe that rehabilitation is successful only when, owing to the program, there is no recidivism. Overall, I found rehabilitation both interesting and controversial and I believe that even though rehabilitation can never be guaranteed to work, it is still worth trying method for crime reduction (Cavadino, 2004).

The last utilitarian approach is called incapacitation and refers to the act of making the offender not capable of reoffending. At this point I have to say that this approach reminds me of the film minority report here a police specialist stop the murder before it happens… Offenders who have committed repeated crimes (persistent offenders) or thought to be dangerous are being punished by execution (Zimring, 2003) or lengthy incarceration. Throughout the workshop, it was made clear that incapacitation involves the restriction of offender's liberty to protect the public. However, this often involves identifying risk, and thus I believe that it is extremely doubtful and elusive for someone to decide whether to punish someone based on prediction. It is not surprising the fact that during the 1980s and early 1990s there was an overall increase in lengths of prison sentences, including electronic tagging and natural life sentences (Gennaro, 2007:59). Maybe, there has been a lot prediction after all...

Having read the lecture notes I felt the need to read additionally in order to fully understand incapacitation and so I did. Thus, I suggest that punishment should advocate equal retribution followed by dignity. According to that, I have found a clear example of incapacitation inefficiency. Thus, in some cases of sex-offenders (basically pedophiles) incapacitation was inflicted by the use of chemical-castration with hormonal drugs. This technique was first adopted in the U.S of California in 1996 and evidence proved that drugs alone did not make the offender incapable of committing sex crimes (Newburn, 2007). Another, limitation of incapacitation is that it is an expensive strategy reducing crime. As a result, the support for incapacitation has caught up with many states and therefore waned because of the enormous cost (Gennaro, 2007:59).

To conclude, I believe that punishment and imprisonment is a tricky business because all punishment approaches are, by necessity, nasty. As regards their efficiency, I have realized that punishment approaches have both interesting points but also numerous limitations. To be specific, in choosing between reductive and retributive approaches, I would stick with the later. To support my opinion, I believe that utilitarian approach is both expensive and unethical as it punishes people based on what they might do in the future. Furthermore, I believe that even though utilitarian approach (rehabilitation) has remained one of the punishment's primary aims for many years, the high recidivism rates clearly illustrate that is not an effective deterrent after all. Thus, to the question whether rehabilitation in general, reduces crime the answer would be negative.

Ultimately, I tend to prefer retribution as I am a supporter myself that like cases should be treated alike. This is to say, that I tend to agree that punishment must be the same for all people who commit the same crime. Punishing in accordance on the individual needs is inherently unfair as all people are equally blameworthy for their misdeeds. Furthermore, I also strongly believe that both offenders and victims have rights, and since a committed crime cannot be undone, those who violate other's rights deserve to be punished, not so much to deter rather than stop and as Immanuel Kant suggests "retributivists hold that punishment should not be a means to an end, but an end in itself" (Newburn, 2007:524). However, and as it is argued, I strongly believe that both approaches towards punishment have serious shortcomings and thus, change in punishment is required in order to avoid penal crisis