Purpose of Penalty
purpose of penalty is as varied as are the reasons why
people commit crimes. If
I oversimplify, which is what just about all of us do when
we attempt to discuss a complex subject, I would use the
standard four justifications for punishment: retribution,
deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation. Retribution – the so-called, “eye for an eye”
punishment, has probably been around since the beginning of
civilization. A goal of retribution is to retaliate for the
wrong done in such a way that the nature of the punishment
reflects the nature of the offense.
For example, the Germanic tribes in northern Europe
of the Middle Ages were very protective of their forests.
The penalty for illegally cutting down trees was
an effort to have the “punishment fit the crime,” the
offender was executed in a manner that would reflect the
crime itself. So
persons taking the life of a tree by cutting off its top
were buried in the ground from the shoulders down.
A plow was then taken across the offender’s head
and his life was lost by topping, just as the tree had been
is easier to understand.
Punish the individual perpetrator of a crime
appropriately and he or she will sin no more.
Punishment, if made public enough, can also serve as
a graphic warning to help others decide not to commit acts
for which they might receive the same fate as the punished
is a relatively new idea, coming into popularity in the
The purpose is to provide the offender with the tools
necessary so he or she will live a crime-free life.
It has evolved into a system where prisoners are
classified and treatment plans established.
Such treatment plans may include drug counseling,
anger management classes, job training, and basic education.
is used to restrict the movement of the offender in order to
protect society – keeping him or her away from potential
victims or by allowing law enforcement personnel to reduce
the person’s opportunity to commit a crime.
Prison always comes to mind when talking of
incapacitation, but it also can be accomplished through
electronic monitoring or other schemes.
People Commit Crimes
I will oversimplify and use four reasons:
because the person could not get a job; because the
person could not hold a job; because the person did not want
a job; and, for a “cause.”
person might commit a robbery because he could not get
a job and it was the only way he could think of to feed his
family. In this
case, getting the person a job would take care of those who
are concerned with deterrence (individual deterrence, not
general deterrence for other potential offenders) and
would not be an issue of concern, so only those wanting
retribution would not be satisfied.
person might commit a robbery because she could not hold
a job – the person has the ability and opportunity to
work, but because she drinks or sticks a needle in her arm,
she is not able to hold the job.
In this example, the person needs a treatment
program, and if she finishes it and remains drug- or
alcohol-free, she will meet the goals of rehabilitation and
deterrence and not need incapacitation.
Again, those wanting retribution would be left
person might commit a robbery because he did not want
a job – the person is too lazy to work or feels entitled
to take what others have worked for – a person with no
conscience who preys off of others.
In this case we are probably talking about a case for
the punishment of retribution and/or incapacitation with the
thought that it also will serve as deterrence for both the
individual and society.
Rehabilitation would come from having the person feel
it is easier to work for a living than to endure the
person might commit a robbery in order to acquire money,
quickly, to support a revolution or social cause or to
terrorize people into following his or her philosophy.
This is another case for the punishment of
retribution and/or incapacitation with the thought that it
also will serve as deterrence for both the individual and
would come from having the person feel it is easier to work
for a living than to endure the punishment.
Expectations of Offenders and Victims
about all offenders expect to be punished, in one way or
another, for what they did.
They generally do not expect to be treated or forced
into programs having nothing to do with their crime.
In New Zealand, Phil McCarthy, the general manager of
the Public Prisons Service, Department of Corrections, found
that treatment is most effective when directed at those at
highest risk of re-offending.
Directing intensive treatment resources at those of
lower risk is likely to be ineffective at best, or even
increase the probability of further recidivism.
He referred to over thirty meta-analytic reviews of
treatment evaluations encompassing over two and a half
thousand individual treatment outcome studies which
consistently support that, under certain conditions,
rehabilitation can be effective.
purposes of what follows, the term “victims” includes
not only the immediate targets of crime, but also their
families and members of the groups or communities to which
they belong. According
to a study published in May 2000 by the International
Association of the Chiefs of Police, victims want:
Protection from the perpetrators and revictimization;
crime prevention through collaborative problem solving; and
a restored sense of individual and community safety.
Ability to participate in the justice system process
and obtain information and services, regardless of
individual or family circumstances.
Verbal and written information about justice system
processes and victim services that is clear, concise, and
Support: Services and assistance to enable participation in justice
processes, recovery from trauma, and repair of harm caused
Continuity: Consistency in approaches and methods across agencies;
continuity of support through all stages of the justice
process; and trauma recovery.
Empowerment to speak out about processing of
individual cases; opportunities to influence agency and
system-wide policies and practices.
is achieved when all stakeholders are satisfied with the
process and the outcome is fair to all participants.
the Public – Do Alternatives to Prison Help or Hurt?
use of prisons before the Eighteenth Century was only one
part, and not a very significant part, of the system of
punishments used in society.
Over the last two hundred years, the prison has
evolved to become the main player in the punishment game.
In western societies we know that that the use of
flogging, public humiliation, corporal punishment and
capital punishment has diminished.
survey was conducted in 1994 by Mohamed Zeid of the Global
Security Foundation with 60 respondents from Saudi Arabia,
Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Sudan, Tunisia, North Yemen, Libya and
survey was in the form of hypothetical situations (e.g., a
person breaks and enters into an apartment and steals 40
Saudi Riyals [standard currency units] worth of property; a
parent beats his son pretending that he educates him, but
the child is hurt and spends a few days in the hospital; two
workers kidnap a young virginal girl and commit sexual
assault in an abandoned location, etc.). The survey asked
what would be suitable to serve as sanctions or measures or
both for convicted offenders in each of the cases given.
Those completing the survey were highly qualified
experts (i.e., professors of Sharia, criminal law,
criminology, penology, or police, judges, and district
attorneys). The results, which of course varied with
specific questions, tended towards Taazir penalties (imprisonment)
as opposed to Hedud penalties (amputation for example) due
to the difficulty in obtaining the evidence required to
prove a Hedud offense.
The use of prisons in Islamic societies, like in the
western world, seems to have become the punishment of choice.
if prisons are the general punishment of choice in much of
the world today, what is the impact of attempting to reduce
prison populations by using alternative punishments?
Because the world community, mainly through the
United Nations, has established standards and norms
mandating the humane treatment of offenders, many of the
punishments of previous times are no longer acceptable.
The alternatives to imprisonment include probation,
parole, fines and day fines, community service, day
reporting centers, public service work crews, and sentencing
drug and alcohol abusers to treatment programs.
the push to reduce the use of prisons a movement that is
likely to increase crime?
Is the public as safe?
What are the economic and societal tradeoffs?
the Untied States in the 1990s, “get-tough-on-crime”
measures dramatically increased the nation’s prison
in 1993, in the state of Washington, and over the next
decade, more than half of all states and the federal
government enacted laws that doubled or tripled the
sentences for individuals convicted of second and third
offenses. During that same period of time crime rates declined
nationwide prompting many to claim that the tough new
sentencing laws were responsible for the decline.
alone boasted a 27 percent drop in all crime and a 31
percent drop in violent crimes.
However, empirical research showed a different
was declining at about the same rate before the passage of
the new laws. New
York, without such laws, had an even higher crime reduction
during that same period.
Counties in California that enforced the new laws
strictly did not have any more of a reduction in crime as
the counties that did not enforce the new, stricter
fact, empirical studies suggest that California would have
had the same decline in crime without enacting the new laws
which greatly increased its prison population.
way to attempt to judge the impact of prison on crime is to
look at the incarceration rate (per 100,000) and the crime
(per 100,000) of various jurisdictions.
In the following, I am using statistics for `1992
for the United States and 1991
for other nations.
had the highest crime rate in the U.S. with 8,358 per
100,000 population. West
Virginia had the lowest at 2,610.
The Florida incarceration rate was 369 while West
Virginia was 102. Texas
had 7,058 crimes per 100,000 and an incarceration rate of
Dakota had a crime rate of 2,903 and an incarceration rate
of 69. Even
when you factor in the poverty rate
and high school dropout rate for the above jurisdictions the
fact remains that a higher prison rate does not mean a lower
United States’ rate of incarceration is several times that
of European nations, yet its crime rate is also much higher
in a number of categories.
The United States, in the year used for comparison,
ranked above European nations in the murder rate and rape.
It was only behind Spain in terms of armed robbery.
Four European nations ranked above the U.S. in auto
theft and five in breaking and entering.
However, none were sufficiently higher in those
crimes to indicate that the vast difference in the
incarceration rate was a factor.
in more recent times, have found that increasing the
incarceration rate has a relatively low impact on reducing
the crime rate.
Unfortunately, there have not been studies to show
the impact of fines, community service, probation or other
sanctions in terms of their impact on crime.
There have been studies which indicate that
participation in treatment programs do have a direct impact
on reducing recidivism.
Studies also have indicated that there is a direct
link between employment and crime and education and crime.
So it is logical to assume that alternatives to
incarceration do not hurt the public in terms of increasing
the crime rate. Though
I have not gone into it in detail, the economic difference
between prison and alternatives is great so the public is
helped, financially, when alternatives are used.
recent report of the Vera Institute
best expresses my views:
it occurs; research shows that it may also depend on
protecting people against those
be associated with
rates, such as unemployment, poverty, and illiteracy.
By pursuing crime reduction chiefly through incarceration,
states are forgoing the opportunity to invest in these other
important areas. As state policymakers continue to feel
pressure to introduce measures to keep crime rates low, they
would do well to look beyond incarceration for alternative
policies which not only may be able to accomplish the
important task of protecting public safety, but may do so
more efficiently and more effectively.