Punishment Philosophy

This paper reflects on punishment in regard to criminal activities in the society. It aims at establishing a more preferable concept of punishment among the rest. These concepts of punishment are as follows retribution concept where the punishment accorded by the wrong-doer is equivalent to the offence committed. It takes the form of an eye for an eye or a tooth for as tooth.  Incapacitation involves rocking up the offender within the walls of prison. This is believed to be the rationale behind imprisonment practices among many states. Rehabilitation concept involves reformation or restoration of character. Deterrent concept upholds that punishment accorded ought to be a lesson for many or potential criminals.

Punishment should not be a recipe for the violation of human dignity but a way to affirm that dignity. This however, must not create a favorable environment for criminals. A state must ensure a criminal-free society. Notably, incapacitation takes a more prominent position but on condition that prisons put in place proper mechanisms in line with the law not only that, mechanisms that endeavor to reform the offenders character and prevent further occurrence of similar crimes in the society.

Today, the concept of punishment has been accorded diverse interpretations as far as its objectives are concerned. In line with this, there is contention in regard to the appropriate purposes of corrections and the ways through which those corrections can be achieved. Punishment is intuitively considered to be an intrinsically retributive practice. This study will explore various concepts, for instance, retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and vengeance. Various models of implementation such as justice model medical models and custodial models will also be considered. In the long run, a synthesis of all the concepts will be developed so as to establish the more convincing concept among the mentioned ones above.

Punishment Theory
It is the act of punishing where the subject undergoes suffering, pain or loss that serves as retribution. It is a fine against the wrongdoer through judicial procedure. It is a severe, jagged or disastrous treatment (Merriam-Webmaster, 2010). Some pain or penalty in the light of law, imposed on a person as a result of a grave misconduct or for the commission of a criminal act punishable by law (Lectric Law Library, n.d.).

It is important to note that an attempt to define punishment is not invitation to justify it. Again, punishment is administered by institutions who in turn define the ways in which punishment on offenders is to be carried out. In this case therefore, to justify the practice of punishment is not tantamount to justifying the act of carrying out this punishment. Either the practice of punishment or the act of punishment should be in tandem with certain set of guidelines such as prescribed laws, rules, standards, and fundamental moral principles. All these set of guidelines become the frame within which practice of punishment or act of punishment may be implemented or justified.

Punishment can take different modes, for example, it can mean to inflict pain on someone like in the case of corporal punishment in schools or a parent thwarting her children or police flogging a group of demonstrators on illegal mass protests et cetera. It can also mean to deprive of someone certain fundamental needs, for example, food, water, air, or conjugal rights just to mention a few. The punishment widely accepted is the one under law. In fact, punishment today is associated with legality. The judicial system is seen as an institution to punish offenders and further to this as an institution that should state what punishment for what offence is to be undertaken.

Concepts in Punishment
It may be argued and justifiably so, that punishment aims at correcting the wrongdoer and not for other arbitrary reasons. There are certain aspects of punishment that exist de facto and there are those aspects that exist de jure (Fingarette,1978). In the former, it is when it is punctuated as a matter of fact and in the latter, it is when it is punctuated as a matter of law or as a result of the recognition it is accorded under the law. There are two justification models namely deontological justification and consequentialist justification. The agents of punishment have in mind an objective that they intend to achieve. As a result of this, they justify the practice of punishment and the way in which this punishment is carried out by referring to the end-results. This is the position of consequentialists, guided by the famous maxim that the end justifies the means. Punishment as prescribed by law is to prevent further commission of crime in the public domain. The culprits who undergo punishment serve as an example to others and as a result avoid commission of the same offence for fear of similar punishment.

On the other hand, punishment is regarded as a good thing in itself and its justification cannot be attributed to other measures. It is an act in itself by virtue of justice. This latter assertion is a deontological justification as compared to a consequentialist justification. Note that deontological justification is equated to retributive justification. A further notion of retribution extends to retributive justice. Here, it is the widely said expression of an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. This was coined back in the time of a Moses, a law that Christianity interprets ex abundant cautela meaning out of abundant caution (Fingarette,1978). Retributive justice states that punishment, if in proportion, is a morally tolerable response to crime and must be so if it satisfies the aggrieved party. She must feel psychologically and physically compensated together with his or her close allies (Philosophy Dictionary, 2005). In this light, retributive punishment involves punishing to the wrongdoer similarly to the offence committed. For instance, if the culprit cuts a finger of another, then the punishment accorded to him or her must be to cut his finger in return.

As mentioned earlier, punishment ought to prevent other offenders from committing crime. This understanding is equivalent to deterrent philosophy of punishment. Incapacitation is a major way the state through its prisons contribute reduction of crime in the society. By confining an offender in the walls of prison, the chances of himher committing crimes are minimal. It is believed that imprisoned offenders are prevented from additional mischief. Legally, this has proven the best measure to deal with criminals for most states as compared to deterrence and retribution (Jeremy, 1948). Seemingly, since the period of 1970s incapacitation serves as the foundation for imprisonment, especially in the United States (Scholarly Literature, c.2010). Rehabilitation in general sense means to restore or to revive. It is the reconstruction of a characters reputation. It aims at improving a persons character while transforming himher to become productive in the society (Webmaster, 2006).

A synthesis of the concepts in punishment
Looking at the definitions of the punishment concepts above, it can be noted that each understanding has got its strong points and weak points. This makes it hard to prefer one concept and disregard the other. What is important, therefore, is to sieve the strong points in each concept in order to identify a more convincing and yet balanced approach to punishment. There are check and balances in the use of punishment and mainly in fostering a just social system. According to the liberal theory of punishment, punishment should never destroy a persons dignity. It must be grounded on fundamental human principles punishment must never contradict or violate the rights of the offender as humans. Here, the offenders guilt must be established through due process the response to the offence must be commensurate with the offence committed. In this respect, there exists a direct proportionality between the offence and the punishment for the offence (Bedau, 2005).

Arguing from the premises by Bedau, it is true that an act of punishment should foster human dignity at all times. Punishment is to correct a mistake and to reform a character. Punishment should not aim at preventing others from committing crimes as deterrence concept holds but it should prevent the offender form doing the offence again. It is good to seal all possibilities that can render a crime to occur but it makes sense when the prevention mechanisms start from the offender. Inclination to crime is a very wide area in the public domain and preventing its occurrence from one party makes little sense. The state may apprehend one or two or three criminals, say terrorists, but by punishing them through sentencing them to death may not eradicate the occurrence of similar crime. There are people who hardly learn from other people experiences. It is evident that despite the states efforts to apprehend offenders in the society there is still serious proliferation of more similar crimes. This claim weakens the deterrence theory.

Retribution is good to the extent of which it confers pain and equivalent punishment (Jeremy, 1948). Its modalities are rooted in justice hence retributive justice. However, the criminal laws should exercise caution in determining the magnitude of punishment. As noted on incapacitation theory, imprisonment becomes a good way in dealing with criminals. For sure, if somebody cuts another persons finger, there could be other punishment mechanisms that can be adopted through the programs in the prisons. At least, due process of the law should prevail. As expressed in Latin, habeas corpus meaning a person should be brought in court and determine the lawfulness of hisher case. She should get a chance to explain the reasons that led himher to cut the others finger and the circumstances altogether. In this way, the case will establish if the plaintiff was justified or not to carry out such an act. The problem with retributive punishment is that it alludes to a fallacy called selective observation. Here, the conclusions by another party to another party disregard possible rational factors. It is the famous phrase that goes, do not judge a book by its cover. Vengeance and retribution have al most the same implications and hence the same defects.

Putting together the thoughts above on the concepts of punishment, the incapacitation theory is more convincing but on condition that the prisons have a thorough way of dealing with the prisoners (Raymond, 2005). Punishment in prison takes maximum cognizance of the law at all times. Again, necessarily is the appropriate place for wrong-doers. Imagine a case whereby criminals are taken to rehabilitation centers where there are no hardships but easy life and nursing. Everybody might decide to commit crimes so that she can be part of the good life in the rehabilitations centers.  A right thinking citizen will not like to end up in jail for she knows the consequences and the reputation one gets in the social framework.

Although we have argued that criminal punishments must never contradict the principles of morality especially human dignity and hisher entire common good, no society should tolerate criminals. They should be severely punished and by all means prevented from committing further crimes. I admire severe measures taken by the court that inflict ample discipline and penance to the offender. I believe it is such a good thing when criminals reform out of the punishment conferred to them by their authorities.

However, criminals are human beings who both need counseling and should not forget their rights too. A good society is the one that aims at reforming wicked characters this is the best way forward. I want to reiterate that, criminals cannot be tolerated in the society by all means and the government should strengthen its security forces in ensuring that the rate of crime is minimal. Security is a human right and any attempts to infringe it should be dealt with accordingly. As illustrated above every concept has both strong points and weak points so I recommend that a good and more convincing concept on punishment be derived from the strong points on each. However, incapacitation is the best way to go but on condition that prisons strictly adhere to the correct ways to deal with wrong-doers, upholding their dignity and reforming their character.


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