Punishment: Its Effects on Society

In this paper there will be discussions on different types of punishment and how punishment affects society. In society everyone is taught that they will be punished if they do something wrong.

Punishment comes in different forms. This could be punishment from parents on their children when they misbehave or do something inappropriate, or it could be the judicial system punishing a person for an offense against the law. The latter is based on the offense and the severity of the crime that was committed. It can be a temporary form of punishment such as imprisonment or imposing sorts of fine, or as lengthy as a lifelong imprisonment. The worst punishment is capital punishment which permanently removes the person from society by execution.

Though believed to reduce crime in society, punishment is generally seen as quite intimidating and a burden to some. Whether punishment is doing more harm than good remains a topic of discussion and criticism in society today.

Punishments have been handed down through history, without any period in which punishment to criminals was prohibited. Since the beginning of the implementation of punishment in society, the justification and concept of punishment has shifted through the years. Current punishments are less brutal than past punishments have been. Punishment was perceived as a form of reformation and rehabilitation to the offenders, but the modern punishment has deviated from that thought.

There have been many ways of punishment in the including imprisonment, slavery and the most controversial being capital punishment. Retribution, rehabilitation, societal protection and deterrence are the most common forms used in today’s society as well. According to an excerpt in the Science Encyclopedia (2009) “For the consequentialist, retributivism is nothing more than a compromise with revenge, and no punishment can be legitimated without knowing that it will bring forth good effects. The good effects that are considered to derive from punishing the offender vary but have included (a) reducing the amount of crime by removing criminals from public circulation; (b) deterring others from committing crime through example and threat; and (c) reforming and rehabilitating the criminal.”

The United States is known to be one of the countries that are in practice of an “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth” type of punishment. In the colonial era the punishment of hot tar and feathers was not uncommon. This was considered to be a punishment that was quite effective even though it was barbaric. (Colonial America Tarring and Feathering) Punishment in the form of the death penalty is considered retributive and has been known to exist throughout American history. Crime rates records within the country have not decreased in any significant manner though. If retribution had been effective the records should have shown some sort of decline in criminal history shouldn’t it? This is one argument that exists on retribution as punishment.

Deterrence is the attempt to persuade against crime by making the public aware as to the punishments they face as a consequence of any action that violates the law. These punishments are made known ahead of time and it is meant to instill fear on the individuals to deter them from doing wrong. Studies show that an effect of deterrence lowered some crime rates, but seem to lack the credibility on how the studies were conducted and thus far inconclusive (Discussion of Recent Deterrence Studies)
According to Jeffrey Fagan (2005) “These new studies are fraught with technical and conceptual errors: inappropriate methods of statistical analysis, failures to consider all the relevant factors that drive murder rates, missing data on key variables in key states, the tyranny of a few outlier states and years, and the absence of any direct test of deterrence.”

Rehabilitation is provided to offenders as a sort of treatment. This punishment seems to help some offenders, but not others. The magnitude at which rehabilitation helps deter crime has yet to be determined. According to the U.S. Department of Justice records show that the total corrections expenditure for the fiscal year of 2001 was 29.5 billion dollars. This is a great effect in state financial matters, although some may say it is ineffective as a form of punishment.

Societal protection does offer some help in today’s society by segregating the offenders from the general public. This incapacitates the offenders from doing further harm by temporarily imprisoning them or permanently by execution. Imprisonment by some may be considered equal to caging an animal to avoid further harm to society. The imprisonment given to people segregates them from the outside world. In ways this is a form of protection from society, but what effect does it have on the person who is imprisoned? Some offenders are imprisoned for years and then set free, but at what cost? There are ways that this is very bad. The offender is freed after 10 or 15 years of imprisonment and unable to find gainful employment and therefore commits another offense to try to “make ends meet” in their own world.

The form of punishment that is appropriate for the crime is never easy to come upon. Each punishment has both good and bad effects. The good effects are the person may realize their wrongdoings and not repeat them in the future, but the bad effects are that the same person may become exactly like a caged animal and strike out at everyone and everything deterring them from doing what they perceive to be instinctual. The most pain that imprisonment causes is being away from family and friends. This causes the person to introvert and sometimes not be able to function at what society considers being a normal capacity when released if there is a release of the offender. If the offender is the head of the household this has a great effect on the dependents of that household as well. These dependents might consider being offenders themselves to generate some form of income for the household. Society today is money driven and the most money in my opinion is made by doing something that is illegal. The length of imprisonment may prevent one person in the family from being an offender, but what prevents the others from doing so?

In the United States punishment has been enforced since the early colonial period, and the victimized crime rates have decreased from 1973 to 2006. (Bureau of Justice Statistics) Whether this information is accurate in actually deterring would be offenders or that there are offenders that have yet to be caught doing the offense remains to be seen. The morality change of society may have some impacts on how the level of crime is decreasing, but this may need further study. The greatest impact of the punishments lies on the financial burden of the state. The cost of punishments has risen and continues to rise every year. Whether there being more offenders or just the cost of inflation is the reason is unknown as these costs are not publicly displayed. Some studies have provided promising results as to the forms of punishment provided, but others have not. It seems the most effective form of punishment is that of the death penalty. This is the greatest deterrent of more crime being committed by the offender.

We as a society know that punishment is to protect the society as a whole. However, every individual in the world has their own standards of living and their own principles. We realize that there are many reasons why crime exists and are continuously looking for solutions for the root of these crimes. Poverty is one such root that society has labeled as linked to crime. According to Melissa Deller, a sociology and criminal justice professor at UW-Whitewater, “If poverty automatically led to crime, then crime rates would rise when poverty rates rise, and the world’s poorest nations would also be the world’s most crime-ridden.” “It gets caught up in a big myth, that poor people are more likely to do crime, and it’s a fallacy.”

So what exactly causes crime, and how do we as individuals in a crime ridden society, help those who are more likely to commit crimes change their way of thinking so as not to commit those crimes? American society today still maintains that criminals must be punished even though crime still exists, wouldn’t it be easier to resolve the issues causing the crimes instead of spending money on the crimes itself. Society as a whole is complex, but that does not mean that we cannot stand together to help those less fortunate and those who are in trouble to help make society better as a whole.

Colonial America Tarring and Feathering Retrieved 17 July 2009 from Oregon Coast Magazine Online http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h569.html

Crime and Victim Statistics Retrieved 17 July 2009 from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/cvict.htm

James J. Stephan “State Prison Expenditures 2001” Retrieved 15 July 2009 from http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/pub/pdf/spe01.pdf

Jeffrey Fagan “Deterrence and the Death Penalty: A Critical Review of New Evidence” Retrieved 18 July 18, 2009 from http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/FaganTestimony.pdf

Punishment, Retribution and Consequentialism Retrieved 18 July 2009 from http://science.jrank.org/pages/10920/Punishment-Retribution-Consequentialism.html

Richard S. Frase “Criminal Punishments” The Oxford Companion to American Law. Kermit L. Hall, ed. Oxford University Press 2002. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press Apollo Group. 16 July 2009 http://www.oxfordreference.com/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t122.e0220

Stacy Vogel “Does poverty = crime? Scholars disagree” Retrieved 18 July 2009 from http://gazettextra.com/news/2008/aug/24/does-poverty-crime-scholars-disagree/