There are 4 different justifications for punishment, and they link to different penal policies.

  • Deterrence Punishment may prevent future crime from fear of further punishment
  • Rehabilitation re-educating offenders so they no longer offend
  • Incapacitation removing the offender’s capacity to re-offend e.g. prison
  • Retribution the idea that society is entitled to take revenge for the offended having breached its moral code.

Durkheim; a functionalist perspective

Durkheim argues that the function of punishment is to uphold social solidarity and reinforce shared values by expressive society’s moral outrage at the offence. Durkheim identifies 2 types of justice, corresponding to two types of society;

  • Retributive justice; traditional society has a strong collective conscience, so punishment is severe and vengeful.
  • Restitutive justice; in modern society, there is extensive interdependence between individuals. Crime damages this and the functions of justice should be to repair the damage (compensation).

Marxism; capitalism and punishment

Punishment is part of the repressive state apparatus that defends ruling class property against the lower class. The form of punishment reflects the economic base of society. Under capitalism, imprisonment because the dominant punishment because, in the capitalist economy, time is money and offenders pay by doing time.

Trends in punishment

1 changing role of prison

Preindustrial Europe had a wide range of punishments e.g. banishment, fines, execution. Prison was mainly for holding offenders prior to punishment. Only later is imprisonment seen as a form of punishment in itself. In liberal democracies, imprisonment is often seen as the most severe of punishments but, as most prisoners reoffend, it may just be a way of making bad people worse.

Since the 1980’s, there has been a move towards the ‘populist punitiveness’ politicians call for tougher sentences, leading to a rising prison population. The UK imprisons a higher proportion of people than almost any other country in Western Europe. Most prisoners are young, male and poorly educated. EM are over-represented.

2 transcarceration

There is a trend towards transcarceration (moving people between different prison like institutions) e.g. brought up in care, then a young offender’s institution then adult prison. There has been a blurring of boundaries between criminal justice and welfare agencies e.g. social services.

3 alternatives to prison

Recently, there has been a growth in the range of community-based controls e.g. curfews, community service orders, tagging. Cohen argues that this has simply cast the net of control over more people. Rather than diverting young people away from the CJS, community controls may divert them into it.