Punishment in the Criminal Justice System

Punishment in the Criminal Justice System
Punishment in the Criminal Justice System

Punishment in the Criminal Justice System

All over the world, the criminal justice system of any state serves two major objectives; enforcement of the law of the land, and correction of offenders through various reform institutions. In this regard, criminal justice can be construed to mean a system governed by standard practices that aim to uphold social control, detecting and preventing crime, and most importantly sanctioning offenders through the use of various forms of punishments.

Significantly, criminal punishment is applied as a way to encourage proper conduct between individuals in the society and at the same time make one take responsibility for a wrongful act committed against another. In this respect, retaliatory acts are avoided because victims of crime will be satisfied that the wrongdoer has faced equal punishment in comparison with the act done. Notably, Lollar (2014) asserts that punishments can also be used as a compensatory tool towards victims of crime.

Retributive punishment

Foremost, this type of punishment is founded on the belief that the best way to respond to a wrongful act is by using a proportionate punishment. According to Flanders (2014) retributivists are of the opinion that when an offender commits an illegal act, the criminal justice system should make such a person suffer an equal and proportionate punishment.

Amusingly, retributivists attach their justification for proportionate punishment from ancient religious laws such as the ones contained in the Holy Bible, for instance, Exodus 21:23 avers that if any person commits harm, then the resulting punishment should be equal, hence the catchphrase “a life for a life, an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” Notably, similar sentiments are proclaimed in Biblical verses such as 5:38 and Deuteronomy 19:21.

Retributivists argue that as long as the damage has been done, there is nothing that can be done to reverse such damage hence the only way to administer justice is by giving equal punishment (Flanders, 2014). Seemingly, such reasoning can be said to be backward looking such that it does not take into consideration that at times crime may be committed in a unpremeditated way such that punishing an offender for the same would be harsh or excessive.

Another going concern for this form of punishment is that it may encourage revenge and promote retaliation in the society. Also, in some instances, it may be hard to draw the line between punishment that is sufficient and from the punishment that is excessive.

An example of a retributive form of punishment is the death penalty which according to Luliano (2015) is no punishment at all because it only seeks to insert pain as a measure of administering justice but does not address the root causes of crime or even ways of helping individuals refrain from such crime.

Utilitarian Punishment

First, from a wider scope, the utilitarian theory developed by Jeremy Bentham emphasizes that any action within the society should be directed towards achieving maximum satisfaction and catering for the well being of the majority members of the society. The utilitarian form of punishment, threads on the same footing by asserting that the laws that guide the conduct of the people in the society, should be used to maximize the happiness of the society (FERRARO, 2013).

Hence, crime and punishment should be kept to a minimum because they are inconsistent with happiness which the utilitarian theory of punishment asserts. Importantly, proponents of this theory of punishment recognize that having a crime free society may be a fallacy as such recommend that the form of punishment handed down to a wrongdoer should be directed to producing “good” from the person. In this respect, the punishment should not be unlimited.

Unlike the retributive form of punishment, which is said to be backward looking, the utilitarian form of punishment is largely presumed to be proactive on crime. For instance, the laws that direct how punishment should be handed down on crime should be designed to deter future crimes of the same nature.

Accordingly, rehabilitation of criminal offenders can be said to be one of the methods that the utilitarian form of punishment emphasizes as a way of administering justice.  Rehabilitation mainly aims at reforming an offender rather than punish so that they may be integrated back into the society. Equally, jailing as a form of incapacitation of an offender also falls under the utilitarian form of punishment because, by removal of the offender’s ability to commit offenses from the society, future crimes of the same nature may be prevented.

Preferred rationale/form of punishment

First, it is important to appreciate the fact that in certain instances, the commission of a criminal act may not be planned such that one will be deemed unswervingly guilty of the act. Offenses such as murder may happen due to provocation such that one may end up taking another one’s life in the heat of passion. Similarly, minors and persons of unsound mind are not spared either when it comes to the commission of a crime. However, such a category of persons may be deemed to a special group because of the underlying issues such as the lack of understanding of the consequence that a particular act may lead to.

From the examples mentioned above, a retributive form of punishment will certainly administer justice in the wrong way because of its backward-looking nature of offering proportionate punishment. Without taking into consideration factors that may have led to a crime, any form of punishment handed down to an individual may be excessive or uncalled for.

By the same token, criminals are presumed to be ordinary persons such that one factor changed that status, for instance, one may seek to steal due to poverty. Alternatively, another person may engage in crime as an act of revenge for a wrongful act done on them. Under such circumstances, the form of punishment handed down should be directed towards enabling such a person reform and be integrated back into the society so as to continue developing.

Notably, even under religious laws, the principle of forgiveness is widely discussed. In this respect, retributive punishment does not give individuals any opportunity to reform or even afford the wrong persons with the chance to deliberate on pardoning the person after serving their sentence as an act of compassion.

Hence, I will argue that the utilitarian form of punishment stands out as the best-placed method for punishing offenders because it not only takes into considerations of the underlying factors that may have led to a crime but it also focuses on handing down the punishment that in the long run will stem out goodness from a person. Goralski (2015) is of the same views by asserting that models of punishment that presume criminals to be bad people who deserve harsh punishments should be relatively be avoided because this leads to vengeance rather than reform.

Philosophy of Imprisonment

Borrowing meaning from the Law Dictionary (2016), imprisonment means restraining or putting an individual in confinement such that his liberty is subjugated. In this respect, imprisonment can be said to be a tool of crime deterrence going by the fact that is limits one’s movement and activities.

Arguably, the rationale for imprisonment as a form of punishment can be said to have stemmed from the belief that by subjecting a person to a place whereby their rights and freedoms were limited to a minimal level, then people would be careful not to commit crime because of the hardships that one would experience while in prison.

However, one can say that imprisonment only acts as a form of banishment of an individual. This is to say, prisons only act as means of putting an individual away from his ordinary life such that he is disassociated with the society. Hence, for imprisonment to reform an individual, an extra effort must be provided a failure to which the individual will only lack his privileges which may not be enough to deter future crimes.

Stuart Greenstreet (2017) argues that imprisonment does not serve its purpose of preventing crime. In his discourse, “Prison Doesn’t work” he asserts that the reason why prisoners even after being released are likely to commit crime is based on the fact that by putting together equal minded people that share similar criminal mindsets, the likelihood of having a worse crime is high because of the perception that jail is used as a way of punishing them.

Also, innocent persons may be subjected to imprisonment such that if they are not helped in having a changed mentality of a criminal justice system, then the likelihood of prisons remodeling such a person by just having them locked up can be equaled to a time bomb.

From a personal point of view, imprisonment only serves to confine people to a place whereby they can no longer commit the crime, but it is not effective in deterring the occurrence of future crimes. Imprisonment should be supported with other special programs that help prisoners have a different perception of prisons and importantly assist them on being integrated back to the society.

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice largely emphasizes on the usage of alternative measures to solve crimes and social disorders. According to Walgrave (2013) restorative justice embraces the ideology that wrongdoers should be empowered to rehabilitate, reform and be reconciled back to the community. Seemingly, any form of crime causes harmto another as such focusing on repairing the harm in perceived to be vital in assisting the warring parties. United Nation’s office on drug and crime asserts that restorative justice seeks to put things right between conflicting parties while at the same time preventing occurrences of similar misconducts through the use of corrective strategies and programs.

Nevertheless, this concept has been purported as being too ambitious in a bid to restore ties between the victims of crime and the offenders, especially when compared with traditional models which emphasizes on the punishment of offenders for any crimes committed. However, restorative justice must be applauded for promoting values such as forgiveness, dialogue, accountability and fraternity (Arlene Gadreault, 2015). Evidently, the main aim of restorative justice is to give both the offenders and victims of crime a bigger role to play within the criminal justice system so as to yield positive outcomes and at the same time offer the necessary assistance to both parties.

Notably, restorative justice can be regarded as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, which uses less punitive channels often in the form of diversion programs under various state agencies that are meant to aid the involved parties to resolve the previous conflict. Accordingly, restorative justice affords offenders with the opportunity to take responsibility for the harm or injuries caused to victims and consequently, make adequate compensation.   

Bentham project

Foremost, Bentham being a prominent law scholar that developed various law theories such as the utilitarian school of thought theory, it is then important to have a deep understanding of the message that he intended to put across through the use of his works. Thus, the Bentham project can be said to largely focus on Bentham’s writings and how they can be made relevant to the modern world’s activities.

The Bentham Project also can be said to focus on how to formulate basic codes of conduct within the society. For instance, the utilitarian theory of punishment can be said to follow the guidelines of Bentham’s utilitarian theory.

Lastly, this project is of great significance especially for learners to get to know the foundation and originality of various concepts that are applicable in today’s world. Having a deep understanding of the origin of things or events is important in assisting one to comprehend their significance in the society.


Arlene Gadreault (2015, January 7th). The Limits of Restorative Justice, School of Criminology,

Universite de Montreal, [online]. Retrieved from http://www.victimsweek.gc.ca/symp-colloque/past-passe/2009/presentation/arlg_1.html

FERRARO, F. (2013). Adjudication and expectations: Bentham on the role of the judges. Utilitas, 25(2), 140-160.

Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0953820812000349

Flanders, C. (2014). Can retributivism be saved? Brigham Young University Law Review,

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GORALSKI, M. W. (2015). LET THE JUDGE SPEAK: RECONSIDERING THE ROLE OF REHABILITATION IN FEDERAL SENTENCING. St. Louis Law Review, 89(4), 1283-1310. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1860286122?accountid=45049

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Luliano, J. (2015). WHY CAPITAL PUNISHMENT IS NO PUNISHMENT AT ALL. American University Review, 64(60, 1377-1441. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1719903823?accountid=45049

The Law Dictionary (2016). What is imprisonment? [Online] Retrieved from https://thelawdictionary.org/imprisonment/

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encounters: Extending theories of procedural justice. Tijdschrift Voor Criminology, 55(2), 229-233. Retrieved fromhttps://search.proquest.com/1426081042?accountid=45049

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