Punishment Justification and Goals

Richard S. Frase

in Criminology

ISBN: 9780195396607
Published online March 2011 | | DOI:
Punishment Justification and Goals

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Criminal punishments are government sanctions imposed on persons convicted of criminal acts (other forms of punishment, not dealt with in this bibliography, include measures imposed by parents on their children, by organizations on their members, by employers, etc.). Criminal punishment requires clear and convincing justification for two essential reasons. First, such punishment is, almost by definition, unpleasant and harmful to the offender, at least in the short term: it deliberately brands and stigmatizes that person as a wrongdoer, usually involves some loss of liberty or other harsh treatment, and often causes harm to the offender’s family. Second, punishment consumes scarce public resources that might be better spent on other pressing needs, or better spent on alternate ways of achieving the supposed justification(s) for the punishment. Punishment justifications and goals can be either positive or negative criteria: they can provide moral and/or practical arguments in favor of the punishment, or they can set limits on the type or degree of punishment that it is permissible to impose under one or more of the positive rationales. Whether positive or negative, punishment justifications and goals fall into two major categories. So-called deontological rationales and limits evaluate a particular punishment according to its inherent value—whether it is a good or a bad thing in itself, regardless of whether the punishment yields good or bad consequences. The second category of rationales and limits are “consequentialist” (or utilitarian); punishment is justified and limited according to whether it produces good or bad effects, in particular whether it tends to decrease future criminal acts by the offender and/or other would-be offenders. Some theories of punishment belong entirely to one or the other of these two main categories, but a number of hybrid or mixed theories have been proposed, incorporating both deontological and consequentialist principles, and most modern legal systems take this approach.

Article.  12679 words. 

Subjects: Criminology and Criminal Justice ; Criminal Justice ; Criminology

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