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Philosophies of Punishment: Retribution

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    According to the book, Criminal Law and Punishment, written by Joel Samaha, the characteristics of punishment include pain or unpleasant consequences, punishment prescribed by the law, punishment administered intentionally and punishment administered by the state (Samaha 22). The two sole purposes of punishment are prevention and retribution. The five philosophies of punishment include retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and restitution. Retribution is the best at exemplifying the philosophy of punishment.

    Early ideas of punishment included torture, beatings, branding, exile and death. The earliest known punishment systems include the Sumerian Law of Mesopotamia and The Code of Hammurabi, which is based on the Sumerian Law of Mesopotamia. According to, when Hammurabi’s Code was first implemented he believed in the idea of an “eye for an eye.” Over time, Crime did not go away so punishments turned into an “eye for an eye” plus another punishment. This method was used to put everybody on notice that people will have to pay for their actions and that there are consequences for bad behavior.

    Other punishment systems include: Roman Law of Twelve Tables, The Justinian Code, “Lex Tailonis,” and eventually lead to formal legal sanctions during the Middle Ages. The philosophy of punishment was first derived during the Age of Reason. Today we punish criminals most often following the Classical School of Thought. Cesare Beccaria was the father of the Classical School of Criminology, and he related causation to punishment. British philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, theorized in order to prevent crime; punishment should outweigh the reward of a crime (Seiter).

    Retribution is the best philosophy of punishment, more so than the other philosophies of punishment such as deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and restitution. The purpose of punishment is to prevent wrongdoing and to punish wrongdoers. Retribution best exemplifies punishment. Retribution it is the idea of infliction of pain and suffering to help maintain moral order. Retribution is the idea of punishing the blameworthy. It is the idea that hurting the wrongdoers is the right thing for society. Intended harm should result in deserved consequences. According to Criminal Law and Punishment, retribution rests on two philosophical foundations, culpability and justice. Justice relies on culpability (Samaha 24). Culpability is someone who intends to harm there victim, someone who is blameworthy of the crime. Therefore, culpability depends on blame and we can only punish those we blame, and we blame those who intend to harm victims; in turn we punish those who justly deserve it.

    Some people might argue that retribution is not the best philosophy of punishment, and the other philosophies such as deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation or restitution are a more effective way in crime prevention. Some people will argue on behalf of the deterrence theory, when normal human beings do not commit crimes because they are aware that the punishment outweighs the reward or pleasure of the crime. However, the deterrence theory is a myth and our moral behavior is controlled by our mind and heart. There is no factual evidence that shows the deterrence is an effective method of crime prevention (Becarria). Other people will argue on behalf of incapacitation. I believe incapacitation can be a severe punishment. People make mistakes and should be punished for those mistakes, but incapacitation is too severe. Also, if we rely on incapacitation to punish crimes, I think we will rely on it too heavily, and can possibly get carried away with it. It could lead to incapacitation for the small crimes.

    Others may even argue for rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is the idea of fix a person or change a person who has committed a crime with the proper treatment, so that they do not commit that crime again. Criminals given the privilege of rehabilitation receive an in determined sentence and there sentence is focused on fixing the problem rather than focuses on punishment for the crime. I believe the focus of a crime needs to be the punishment because criminals need to be punished. Others people could argue for restitution to repay society or their victims for their crime. I believe a repayment for the crime they committed does not justify punishment. In conclusion, I ultimately believe that retribution is the best philosophy of punishment. I do not believe deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation or restitution exemplify the purpose of punishment well enough. Retribution is “the only proper measure of punishment” (Samaha 24). Intended criminal action should result in punishment; not for reasons of deterrence, but because consequences need to be paid. “Punishment justifies itself” (Samaha 24).

    Works Cited

    Becarria, Ceasare. On Crimes and Punishments. New York: Bobbs-Merrill. 1963. Hammurabi’s Code: An Eye for an Eye. 2008. . Samaha, Joel. Criminal Law, 10th Edition. Wadsworth, Inc. 2011. Seiter, Richard P. Corrections An Introduction. 4th Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey:
    Pearson Prentice Hall 2014.

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