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The Effects of Punishment and Sentencing Essay

When a defendant is sentenced, there are philosophical reasons behind this sentencing. The four basic reasons are rehabilitation, deterrence, retribution, and incapacitation. Because this process is sensitive, guidelines have been made to ensure that presumptive sentences are mandatory.

Rehabilitation is considered one of the most “humane” goal of punishment. There are different ways a judge can impose a rehabilitation sentence. For example, a young woman is arrested for public drunkenness. The judge could sentence the young woman to 10 days in jail or reprimand her to a 28-day program for the alcohol charge.

The second philosophical reason for sentencing is deterrence. To deter is to encourage something through fear. In this case, if you fear losing your freedom, one is encouraged to obey the law. Deterrence not only looks for retribution but also looks to punish the defendant to a point whereas they would not have a desire to commit another crime. Deterrence can take two forms, general and specific. The general deterrence punishes the criminal, dissuading them from committing the same crime.

The specific deterrence expects that a harsh sentencing will prevent the offender from committing any future activity. There are some questions regarding general deterrence. Because it assumes that, a person will commit a crime after rationalizing the pros and cons. This theory proves to be false with adolescences.

Incapacitation is another amongst the four philosophies. This form of punishment is not interested in providing resources to eliminate criminal activity. This form wants to incarcerate the defendant and keep them that way for as long as possible. This is one way to ensure that the defendant is not committing any crimes. However, studies have shown that once released, an offender is more likely to commit a crime than before they were incarcerated.

Finally yet importantly is retribution. This philosophy states that if a person commits a crime than he or she should be punished based on the degree of the crime. This relies on the principle of “just deserts” which says that a criminal deserves to be punished. Retribution is not the same as revenge it is a way of paying society back.

Sentencing is not an easy task for a judge, but legislative laws have made it a little easier. Legislatures are responsible for determining the length of the sentence as they are for making the law. They have also created penal codes as a guideline; one of them is to determinate sentencing. If the defendant is sentenced to one year in jail then that defendant must do a year minus the “good time”. As an example, a defendant is sentenced to a year but may only have to do eight months based on their good behavior.

Indeterminate sentencing sets a minimum and a maximum amount of time that a criminal must serve. For instance if a defendant was sentenced to 10 – 15 years, he or she would have to serve at least 10 years, before being considered for parole. Legislatures have passed the truth in sentence law as well. It requires that serious crime offenders must complete 85% of their sentence, without “good time” conditions.

The final decision is based on the judge. The primary factor is the behavior of the defendant and or the severity of the crime. There are circumstances as expected, this is why there are two rules, and they are aggravating and mitigating. A harsh sentence can be ruled under aggravating circumstances or a lesser one can be ruled if the circumstances are mitigating.

A judge considers other factors as well regarding the sentence guideline such as mandatory sentence and habitual offender laws. Mandatory sentence states that a judge must not deviate from setting form standards. The habitual offender law states if a person commits a felony, their 3rd time for sentencing should be harsh.

Debates surrounding capital punishment have advocates stating they just want criminals to be punished based in their crimes (just desert). While those who oppose say, their method is just an act of revenge. Nuechterlein (2000) describes vengeance as punishment inflicted in retaliation for an injury or offense, he says if you consider that, any punishment towards a crime constitutes as vengeance. I do not agree with this author’s concept; however, I understand his point of view.

The other article that I viewed opposed the death penalty. The authors pointed out the methods used for capital punishment are cruel and unusual and violate the Eight Amendment. Kaverny (2008) cruel and unusual punishment satisfies the desire for private vengeance. We are all inclined to evaluate harms to ourselves and our loved ones are more deserving of a punishment, than injury to others. This debate influences decisions for punishment because many states believe that if they continue to hand out the death penalty, crime will decrease.


Kaveny, C. (Feb 15, 2008).” Justice or vengeance: is the death penalty cruel & unusual? (Columnist) (Essay).” Commonweal. 135.3 9(1). Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Retrieved April 27, 2009, from Apollo library http://galegroup.comNuechterlein, J. (2000). “Capital Punishment Deserves Caution Support” Current Controversies: Capital Punishment. Greenhaven press. Opposing Viewpoints Center. Retrieved April 27, 2009 from Apollo library http://galegroup.com

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