Systems of criminal punishment exist to serve justice to offenders and protect the public. Every society, throughout history and across the world, has unique ideas about the meaning of these concepts. This has given rise to a variety of theories about how to address offenders and their actions.
Different Types of Criminal Punishment
The following are five of the most commonly seen types of criminal punishment:
Incapacitation seeks to prevent future crime by physically moving criminals away from society. This punishment can be traced to ancient times, Terance Miethe and Hong Lu write in Punishment: A Comparative Historical Perspective. Banishment was a common penalty in antiquity. Later, it was common for colonizing European countries to ship convicts and undesirables overseas. In modern times, house arrest, incarceration and the death penalty are all forms of incapacitation.
Findings by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) have brought the effectiveness of this method into question. According to BJS data, about two-thirds (67.8 percent) of prisoners released back into society were arrested for a new crime within three years. And about three-quarters (76.6 percent) were arrested within five years. Despite these findings, incapacitation is a common form of punishment in the United States.
The goal of deterrence is to persuade citizens and possible offenders or re-offenders to conform to the rules of law. Miethe and Lu explain that four types of deterrence are generally recognized:
1.) Specific deterrence analyzes how effective punishment is on an individual’s future behavior.
2.) General deterrence seeks to understand how individual punishment can deter others from committing crimes.
3.) Marginal deterrence seeks to reconcile how effective different types of punishment are as either specific or general deterrence.
4.) Partial deterrence refers to situations in which the threat of penalty has some deterrent value even when someone engages in illegal behavior. (For example, a criminal simply robbing a victim, instead of also causing physical harm.)
The effectiveness of deterrence as a criminal punishment is difficult to assess because people may follow the law for other reasons that may be challenging to track such as religious or moral beliefs, physical incapacitation or lack of opportunity.
As one of the oldest forms of punishment, retribution has roots in the Judeo-Christian tradition of justice. In her book Criminal Law, Lisa M. Storm explains that retribution prevents crime by giving victims or society a certain sense of satisfaction that a defendant has been punished appropriately, reinforcing the belief that the criminal justice system is working effectively. Modern examples of retribution include the widespread practices of imposing fines, as well as enforcing mandatory sentencing policies for certain offenses under the law. As an effective punishment, retribution has been criticized as being overly rigid and limited in its capacity to change societal behavior. However, it remains popular.
A common prison policy in America up until the 1970s, rehabilitation focuses on helping criminals and prisoners overcome the barriers that led them to committing criminal acts. This includes developing occupational skills, as well as resolving psychological issues such as drug addiction and aggression, explains the American Psychological Association (APA). Considered the opposite of retribution, the ultimate purpose of rehabilitation is to transition offenders back into society. The APA reports that in examining massive data, individualized approaches to crime, complemented with community-based approaches, can prove effective in reducing offender recidivism.
A radically different approach to criminal punishment, the goal of restoration is for the offender to make direct amends to both the victim and the community in which the crime was committed. Although a relatively new practice in modern times, the concept of restorative justice can be found in the early legal systems of Western Europe, ancient Hebrew justice and pre-colonial African societies.
During the process of restoration, victims initiate a process in which both they and the offender meet to share feelings and concerns. The dialogue offers victims the opportunity to be heard and the offender to make amends and receive forgiveness. Restorative justice is often used in crimes involving youth offenders.
Learning More About Criminal Punishment
Theories of punishment seek to reconcile criminal behavior with the needs and desires of citizens. Those wishing to study these issues further can do so with an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Degree from Point Park University. Courses last only eight weeks, providing an efficient way to work toward a meaningful career.