Four Theories of Punishment - Essay Example

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Sewanee University of the South
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Various governments have devised several theories to support the utilization of punishment aimed at maintaining order in the society. The theories of punishment are divided into four philosophies: the retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation philosophies. It is important to note that the retributive punishment philosophy aims at looking at the crime and punishing it because of the contravention of the law. The other three theories share the same ideals in the sense that they are utilitarian or consequentialists in nature. The term retribution can be described as an indication of expiration or vengeance and depicts the use of punishment as a denunciation or censure. Revenge theory argues that penalties are necessary for the sense that they satisfy the desire for vengeance of the victim. The utilitarian philosophy of punishment aims at punishing the offenders to deter them from the future wrongdoings. The retributive theory, on the other hand, aims at punishing the offenders since they deserve punishment (Nahmias, & Aharoni, 2017).

There are several differences and connections between the four punishment theories. Under right conditions, deterrence can help in preventing wrongdoers and others from undertaking criminal acts and offenses. Besides, the forms of deterrence work when the prerequisite conditions are set in place. The right conditions that are set for the deterrent punishment philosophy to be successful hold that the proper prerequisite requirements are in place and must fulfill certain thresholds.

To begin with, the offender must be aware of the consequences that come with the offense they commit (Robinson, 2011). The offender must then be willing and be in a position of taking the threat as contained in the deterrence based laws and make use of them to decide on how they should respond (Robinson, 2011). Lastly, the offender must always consider the kind of punishment attracted by the contemplated offense and even believe that the repercussions indeed outweigh benefits that come with the crime (Robinson, 2011). Even though the offender may be aware of the consequences of deterrence punishment theories, the results of the punishment theory may not dampen the offender from offending the law. Furthermore, the two forms of the deterrence theories can offer penalties, apart from what the offender may be deemed to deserve, such as, the death penalty. The particular deterrence theories only apply on a specific perpetrator, because it only imposes the kind of punishment that is unique to the perpetrator of the specific offense. This is always done as the deterrence to the likely crime from being committed again. The general deterrence can also have effects on additional offenders, and this serves as an example to the society on the consequences that come with the criminal acts in the hopes of having a discouragement of others from committing the same offense.

Just like deterrence, rehabilitation theory also prevents the offenders from committing similar crimes, although if successful, can only work for the limited offenses and the offenders. Rehabilitation can only prove to be effective if the parole and probation officers made use of the rehabilitation centers and programs for the criminals and the crimes where the rehabilitation is possible. The punishment theory also applies on the particular perpetrator of crimes, just as the special deterrence, that is, the punishment cannot play a role in the prevention of other offenders from committing the crimes a second time. Unlike the two forms of deterrence theories, the rehabilitation philosophy is believed to better the lives of the offenders. For instance, the offender suffering from drug addiction can be subjected to specific months in the rehabilitation centers. While at the facility, a perpetrator may end up being sober. Nonetheless, this may not be the case as some of them relapse, a phenomenon that could end up being re-incarcerated.

The rehabilitation theory of punishment can also offer the offender the punishment other than what the offenders deserve. For example, a judge can potentially subject a drug offender to a period of five years sentence in prisons, contrary to the sentencing of one year in the rehabilitation centers with a hundred and twenty hours of community service.

Educational or vocational training centers within the prisons are designed in such a manner that they teach the inmates on the general skills of employment and industries. The overall goal of educational programs is to reduce the risks of the inmates in recidivating through teaching them the marketable skills they possibly can acquire to help them in retaining employment after they are released from prisons. The vocational training or education facilities in the prisons also assist in reducing institutional issues such as behaviors through replacing the idle times of the inmates with productive working time (Gallagher& Mackenzie, 2000).

According to the 1995 survey of the federal and state prisons, nearly a fifth of the inmates were subjected to some form of educational program and this finding established that both the governments spent a total of $412 million on an annual basis on the educational programs. Even though the findings of this survey are not entirely equivocal, the study points to the suggestion that programs have a remarkable impact on the reduction of post release recidivism, for instance, on the lesser skills.



Nahmias, E., & Aharoni, E. (2017). 8 Communicative Theories of Punishment and the Impact of Apology. Rethinking Punishment in the Era of Mass Incarceration, 144.

Rehabilitation - Correctional Programs In The United States. (2017). Retrieved 10 August 2017, from

Robinson, G., & Crow, I. D. (2009). Offender rehabilitation: Theory, research and practice. Sage.

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