Purpose of punishment.

Essay by sonyxHigh School, 10th grade September 2003

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Within the English legal system there are four main theories of punishment; retribution, deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation. The retributive theory looks back to the crime and punishes because of the crime. The remaining three all look forward to the consequences of punishment and thereby hope to achieve a reduction in crime. They are therefore often termed consequentialist or utilitarian theories. The boundaries between these theories are far from clear, containing sub-categories, many of which are perceived quite differently by different writers. To establish why it is we punish, each theory will have to be examined closely.

Why do we punish 2


The term retribution can be used in several senses. It can indicate vengeance or expiration, however, it is today more commonly associated with giving the offender his just deserts and using punishment as a censure or denunciation. The desire for vengeance theory is that the punishment satisfies the victim's desire for vengeance, and the state is exacting vengeance on their behalf to prevent private retaliation.

Such a view finds little support today.

Expiration requires the offender to work off his guilt; he must be purified through suffering. "The essence of the expiratory view is that in suffering his punishment, the offender has purged his guilt, has 'paid for' his crime, and that his account with society is therefore clear." The focus is on the past crime with the attempt to wipe the slate clean. These ideas largely stem from religious influences on our culture. However, a deeper psychological explanation has been argued to exist, underlying the offenders need for expiration. Guilt is a state of tension which gives rise to a need for the removal of this tension. From the time we are children we are conditioned to expect this relief through punishment. Whilst society may offer...