justifications of Punishment





Final Paper: justifications of Punishment

On the most intractable challenges in the criminal justice system, is the consideration of conferring appropriate punishment to offenders. The aim of punishment emanates from the distinctive social contexts that a crime takes places. Essentially a criminal activity usually involves an offender victim, law enforcement agencies, and the community as a whole. Additionally, the incidence of crime is usually accompanied by phenomena such as loss, damage, and injury on the involved parties. It is important to note that the primary function of any penal code system is to provide protection to society from the outcomes of crime in a manner that commands public support and respect while ensuring minimal and needless injury to the offender.

Criminal punishment usually serves a number of purposes namely rehabilitation, deterrence, retribution, and subsequent protection of the society from such social ills. None of these issues is preeminent. Thus, criminal justice professionals should accommodate such competitive demands in conferring judgment to offenders. Furthermore, the sentencing officers should also ensure the wellbeing and dignity of the offender. Punishment is founded on four primary justifications

  1. Retribution (moral vengeance)

Retribution is founded on the idea that it is appropriate for the offenders or individuals found to be culpable of crimes to be punished accordingly. In addition, it is appropriate for individuals to be conferred befitting judgment from their crimes. The desire for retribution according to scholars, is not a motive for revenge, rather it is a desire by a community to express its dislike or repudiation for a particular crime committed by an offender. In addition, it seeks to establish and affirm the welfare of individual communities against possible ills inherent in the society. Retribution is considered strongest in communities or social settings where sin and crime are synonymous.

However, in relation to modern criminal justice systems, this is not an appropriate perspective. The purpose of a sentencing judge in conferring judgment to an offender is to express displeasure and condemnation on behalf of the community or society. In addition, it is ethical and morally appropriate for criminal justice professionals such as judges to confer proportional and fair judgment based on the severity of an offense. Proportional does not refer to a “measure for measure” approach; rather pure retribution refers to whereby proscribed conduct should be punished top prevent similar incidences in the near future. Essentially retribution as a mechanism of prevention of incidences of crime is the “reinforcement of moral inhibition.”

  1. Deterrence (hard labor)

The term deterrence has two distinctive connotations, which involve an underlying concept that imposition of penal code is effective in preventing reoccurrence of a prohibited act. The first approach is particular or individual deterrence. The second perspective is the group, general or collective deterrence. Individual or particular deterrence is founded on the assumption that imposition of adequate punishment that is effective in deterring an offender from commission of a similar or any other offense. It is critical to note that long and harsh judgments are usually not effective in ensuring that a party desists from committing crimes. At times detection, apprehension and encounter with law enforcement and the criminal justice system is relatively effective in deterring an individual from continuing the life of crime.

Such an effect is usually likely to occur if the offender is young and has had minimal encounter with correctional and legal processes. On the other hand, severe treatment towards such kinds of offenders may affirm the deviant and antisocial behavior and tendencies. Prisons are at times termed as avenues for orientation of individuals into criminal activity given that they bring about together individuals with extensive histories in crime and vulnerable and impressionable individuals with minimal interactions with criminal activity. Critics note that deterrence is usually an effective means if threatened punishment is viewed as a consequence upon commission of a crime. Therefore, the offender should perceive a high likelihood of detection, apprehension, and subsequent conviction for a crime.

  • Rehabilitation

Recent history in criminology and penology has illustrated the enhanced concentration of social, psychological, and economic factors that are associated incidences of crime. Rehabilitation has been termed as the most effective means of protection of individuals from their criminal histories and more so delivering safety to communities to incidences of crime. It is a noble idea to reform and rehabilitate individuals and correct the aberrant impulses that result in crime. However, there have been minimal demonstrations of the effective avenues for rehabilitation of criminal offenders primarily due to the preconceived notion that the criminal justice system is biased. Critics claim that the rehabilitative approach is a challenge given that criminal law becomes utilized for tasks that are beyond its traditional or inherent competence.

It is critical to note that the origins of crime are embedded in various complex phenomena such as economic, psychological, and social factors, with a small number being comprehensible by professionals and the individual as well. Criminal justice systems around the world continue to struggle with the overly elusive goals of rehabilitating offenders. Extensive studies conducted in the United States have illustrated that previous penological efforts towards emphasizing rehabilitation in the criminal justice system have had minimal if any appreciable outcomes on the incidence of recidivism in the country.

  1. Social protection

The purposes of judgment and sentencing augment the need by the criminal justice system to provide society with protection from incidences and effects of criminal activity. Retribution amongst offenders usually enhances the process of social protection as it illustrates the effective of law enforcement and the legal systems established. Deterrence plays a critical role in the prevention of incidences of crime. Additionally, rehabilitation advances the long-term objectives of society towards improved safety levels through reformation of individuals away from previous life of crime.

The safety and security of the community refers to elimination of the offender and related criminal elements from the society either permanently or temporarily. Society is protected when offenders are dealt with using appropriate strategies.


It is evident the criminal punishment is critical towards control of criminal elements, given that various social, psychological and economic factors contribute towards the incidence of crime. In essence, criminal punishment usually serves a number of purposes namely rehabilitation, deterrence, retribution, and subsequent protection of the society from such social ills. None of these issues are preeminent. Thus, criminal justice professionals should accommodate such competitive demands in conferring judgment to offenders. Furthermore, the sentencing officers should also ensure the wellbeing and dignity of the offender. Moreover, catering to the emergent needs of offenders is necessary to ensure that they are accorded with optimal dignity and wellbeing. This can only be achieved through fair and appropriate practices in apprehension and conviction of offenders.




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