Philosophies and the Purpose of Corrections


We define the four philosophies allied within our correctional system in alphabetical order as deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and retribution. Some manner of justice must be meted out in order for the victim to be appeased and the public to feel that justice has justly prevailed. In our efforts to be fair we are confronted with the need to provide identical justice to all offenders according to the laws. In no way can the preferred system be overly callous while on the other hand it can not be too lenient in its scope. Out of the four philosophies presented I have selected at this time to talk of deterrence and retribution.

The deterrence philosophy focuses upon the resultant consequences of the punishment and not upon the immediate satisfactions provided to the victims of the offence. The concept revealed here with this punishment philosophy is the aspect of discouraging any possible future offenses.

We are reminded of the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham who aptly stated that the fear of punishment would serve as the motivating factor to deter others from committing similar crimes. If we reflect upon the corrective methods employed amongst the Mid-Eastern nations and the Islamic states we quickly discover that they have established their penal policies upon the premises of deterrence. A prime example of this is found in the countries of Saudi Arabia or Iran where capital punishment is performed openly in view by the masses so as to forgo future transgressions of the law.

Even here in America we are drenched in a history of deterrent actions upon the criminal elements in order to provide examples for others to follow. Having its start during the Salem witch trials and progressing to our early western settlements the process of hanging was intended not merely as an ultimate means of punishment but by its very nature it was displayed within an atmosphere of nothing less than that of a circus. During the hangings we would find venders hawking and competing for sales of their merchandise. We witness small children carefully seated beside the edge of the dirt road passing through town but in direct view of the gallows. If the hanging was of a high-profile individual we would perceive roves of reporters and photographers lining up along the street competing for an opportunity to seize a quick byline on the next edition of their newspaper.

Currently, the philosophy of deterrence does not merely entail the death penalty but could include other appropriate corrective actions as well. It is the death penalty which is highlighted the most. We frequently discover that deterrence focuses clearly upon the individual with an ultimate goal of forcing the offender to recognize the consequences of his actions. There is also convergence upon the prevention of future crime by the act of making an example out of the deviant. There is nothing personal in this process as its sole rationale is to mete out a form of punishment in view of others with the ultimate hope of eliminating future crimes. Alternately it removes the individual’s opportunity to commit additional crimes.

Our next topic of discussion is retribution. By definition, retribution refers to the concept whereas offenders should be punished for committing crimes and violating generally accepted social rules. In the distribution of justice this form of punishment would not condone chastising anyone who did not exercise free will in the commission of the crime or those who may have been forced into committing a crime. By this it is understood that if a gunman were to compel a victim to rob a bank they would not be totally guilty of the crime.

When we mention retribution the first thing that comes to mind is an eye for an eye. We find similar beliefs recorded within the books of the Old Testament as they relate to early Jewish law. This presence indicates that certain crimes demanded harsher responses. Nowhere in the guidelines of retribution are formulated provisions where an offender should receive rehabilitation or other philosophies other than retribution for the crime they have committed. Throughout the ages the prospects of retribution have never been widely accepted by the public although punishment of some sort was expected. It is almost as if the system seeks to extract revenge upon th offender rather than to see an offender repented of his crime.

It was widely accepted that if the punishment was sever enough the offender would remember his punishment and not make the same mistake again. It is debatable if this system actually deters crime at all. Retribution in our modern society could readily take the form of prison time, weekly community service or assignment under the probation program. The unspoken point which must be understood is that the sentence imposed upon the offender must be compatible with the crime committed. Over the years society has reduced the severity of retribution providing a more standardized assessment system.

Copyright @2012 Joseph Parish