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Punishment: Forms and Functions Essay

In a contemporary society where crime takes place we expect the state authority to dispense justice in the form of punishment to maintain social solidarity. There are many forms of punishment that can be given to an offender, each with their own functions for the offender and society itself. Imprisonment is one of the most widely used forms of punishments globally, the ideology of imprisonment globally tends to remain the same. There are several functions of imprisonment and whether it is an effective method of punishment is widely argued by sociologist. To remove the offender from society, as to keep society safe is one function that stands out, by putting the offender in a high security environment you take away their freedom to commit offences towards the public again. However it could be argued that prison is deemed an unsafe environment for the offender itself as an institution, for many it’s an environment where they have to adapt to survive, in which case becoming a breeding more criminals as a result of this or producing victims.

Alternative punishment such as house arrest or probation would be more suitable in the face of the offender’s personal safety, whereby they are still paying for the crimes they have committed, with limitations on their freedom, however they are much safer. Statistics show that 50% of offenders that are released from prison are likely to reoffend within 3 years, which is the same rate as those who are given these alternative punishment. With 3% of the American population in prison and a large majority of those likely to reoffend within 3 year of release, they should be looking for alternative approaches to prison that takes into account the safety of the offender. However it could be argued that prison is there to be tough and that the people in there are criminals and should be treated as such. An alternative approach to prison that has be found to be particularly successful across America in reducing the number of young people entering prison and reducing the reoffending rates are correctional facilities, which implements army regimes, with an aim to instil discipline, self-control and work ethic into juveniles.

This form of punishment works based on the idea of giving young people who have committed the change to go through a programme or carry on with their sentence. This form of punishment works based on the idea of deterrence as mentioned in item B, which in the case of this form of punishment where it is heavily applied it is successful proven by the low rates of reoffending after graduation from correctional facilities. However it can be argued it’s difficult to prove the effectiveness of deterrence, because only the offenders who weren’t deterred by possible consequences of the actions will come to face the enforcement of the punishment, therefore it does not tell us why others do not offend. Making punishments based on deterrence is based on a key concept that offenders choose to obey or disobey the law having calculated the possible gains and consequences of their actions.

It could be argued that all forms of punishment are based on deterrence, we have punishment to deter the public from committing crimes, and it forces society to conform. Over the many centuries that there have been prison systems there have been changes in the way offenders have been treated, one concept that is present in today’s prison system is the idea of rehabilitation, this is aiming to reform the offender to give them the support and skills they needs to be able to go back into society once they have served their sentence, and in turn stop them reoffending.

This as a function of punishment is generally very positive, it’s helping the offender, their still contained in a high security environment away from the public however for many offenders they tend to be uneducated or lack vocational skills which has left them unsupported previously, with rehabilitation they’re able to gain these skills so they can go out and get jobs, meaning they’re less likely to lead criminal lives when they’re released from prison. However Rothman 1973 rejects the idea of rehabilitating offenders, he believes that due to the environment they’re in with officers holding huge amounts of power over them, they’re left with little free will and are forced into these programmes. However it’s often found that many offenders, especially women and ethnic minorities, take well the programmes having been discriminated against in education and in the work place so having had less opportunism before prison. 30 mins

When assessing the functions and forms of punishment one key aspect I think is important to take into consideration is the role of the crime itself and how that plays out in punishment. Imprisonment, can be a harsh environment, however can be an opportunity for offenders to reflect on the crime they’ve committed and who they’ve committed it against. Restorative justice also gives offender this opportunity to reflect on the harm they’ve caused through programmes such as victim offender medication, which studies show has a high satisfaction rate for those involved, high victim participant rates, meaning a large proportion of victims who can will take up the opportunity to talk to the victim of their crime, and importantly reduced criminal behaviour by offenders (cumbhert 1994). However a major criticism of victim offender mediation is that it’s difficult in terms of victims of brutal crimes such rape of with relatives of murder victims. Item B refers to the use of execution as a form of punishment, whereby countries such as the USA still enforce the death penalty, the UK uses the alternative of life imprisonment for brutal crimes such as murder or rape of a minor.

Deterrence is a prominent concept when discussing death penalty, the idea is that if you take a life where the death penalty is used as a form of punishment, your life will be taken, however research from the death penalty information centre suggests that the use of capital punishment has no effect on the rate of murder case, when they compared states that used the penalty there wasn’t much difference between the number of murder cases and in some year It was higher for states with the penalty. In the UK we abandoned capital punishment and replaced it with life imprisonment, which some argue to be unfair on the victims and believe in the take a lie give a life ideology.

However when you take into consideration a lifetime imprisonment and was that would actually be like, living with hundreds of criminals for a lifetime, in isolation, without many rights, it could be argued that the offender would endure more suffering, therefore the punishment is right for what they’ve done, and they’re serving the time for their crimes. Prison is a form of punishment which is a theme throughout, Foucault provides an explanation for why prison is so prominent as a form of punishment in our society.

In previous years sovereign power was prominent, whereby punishment would be handled by those in power of the land, i.e. the king or queen, this would be done in a manner of cruelty and brutally aiming to punish the body for the crimes that have been committed. In our society we have moved towards disciplinary power whereby punishment is handed out by the authorities, it’s done so with an aim of disciplining the mind, making them correct their own actions. The idea of self-discipline comes into play in prisons where by prisoners are being watched by guards so act accordingly, in time they will begin to act this way without the guards being there in case they are being watched. There are many forms of punishment and many functions of those punishments, and whether a punishment is successful depends on what the aim is and who the punishment is applied to. For example many argue that a fine is a suitable punishment for speeding and acts as a deterrent for reckless driving.


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