Goals of Punishment

The United States correctional system has led itself to fall into five separate categories: incapacitation, retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and restitution. These categories do not completely measure up to an equal criminal justice system among all offenders. These are the purposes and the standard punishments. These objectives are taken as policy among our judicial system for the most part. There are agreements and disputes involved with each category. Some are standard practice and the correctional standard. The judicial system has an obligation to protect the rights of citizens, protect society freedoms, and human rights.

 There is a relationship between the goals of punishment and the correctional system. The relationship consists of ideas and theories that certain forms of punishment on an offender will turn the offender into a law-abiding citizen once release from prison. The judicial system seems to lean in the direction of incapacitation for the answer. Removing an individual from the community is worthwhile, but it does not protect the community for long periods of time in most cases. Legislation has taken some discretion from the courts with mandatory sentences. For the career criminal, there is no such thing as deterrence. That type of offender habitually continues to commit crimes throughout their lifetime.

 Our criminal justice system is not perfect by any means and there have been calls for criminal justice reform for decades. Attempting to impose these goals on offenders and follow the Constitution will always cause conflict. As a summary, these goals are the standard of punishment levied by our courts. I have taught this subjects for many years and I am always interested in hearing the opinions of the students.


 The most common goals of these punishments are incapacitation. Incapacitation prevents future crime by removing the defendant from society. Some examples include incarceration, house arrest, or execution pursuant to the death penalty. Incapacitation is a preventative measure by the criminal justice system and is the most popular form of punishment (Stefansovska & Jovanova, 2017). In some cases, some people are removed from society for a non-violent offense and this brings in debate about who should be incarcerated. The United States has severe overcrowding in the prisons. It is possible to concede that non-violent criminals remain on other forms of incapacitation to allow overcrowding to not be an issue. Prison should be reserved for the most dangerous criminals: violent, sex offender, capital offenders, and terrorists. Also, allowing violent criminals to be incarcerated will protect the public for a period. Once released, these offenders often fall to recidivism. Unfortunately, the recidivism is more violent and possible murderous.

 Mandatory sentencing has had a significant role in the populations within the prisons. The courts have no discretion when legislation has taken sentencing out of the hands of juries and judges. In crimes against persons the Victim Impact Statement allows the victims to express their feelings of grief and anger towards the offender. Allowing the victims to express their emotions openly in court is significant and possibly weighs on the incarceration time given by the court. I agree with allowing the victims to do this directly to the offender.


 Beginning with the first written laws of justice, the Code of Hammurabi, retribution has been a unique goal of punishment. Retribution brings the humanity and victim emotion to the surface. “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” allows victims and those associated with the victim to bring in a perspective of pure emotion. They are usually very angry at the situation and they want the offender to receive the most severe punishment allowed to exact revenge. Revenge is a dangerous emotion, but it is an emotion that is true to the victim and associates.

 Retribution is unique in that it offers offender atonement versus reduction of population outrage. The offender must receive the appropriate punishment they deserve. Sommers (2016) offers two components of culpability: (1) the severity of the wrong and (2) the blameworthiness of the offender. Citizens of infamous crimes in our society today often use the media to express the infuriation with the criminal justice system beginning with law enforcement. The observer perspective has no association with the victim as a family member or close friend, but as a member of the general population. They can be vocal towards their disgust in law enforcement. This vocal outspokenness often transforms into riots and more violent acts being committed. Thousands and possibly millions of dollars are lost expressing themselves for what they believe was miscarriage of justice.


 Deterrence is simply the omission of a criminal act because of the fear of sanctions or punishment. Brought forth by the theories presented by Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham, deterrence is an important brick in the foundation of criminal justice. The notion of specific deterrence (those that have committed previous crimes) and general deterrence (those that have not yet offended from committing crimes) is incorporated significantly in the basics of the criminal justice system. Community policing poses the attempt to use police visibility to promote would-be offenders to not commit. We know this to be true because if we are driving and we notice a police vehicle ahead of us, we instinctively let off the gas and possible tap on the break. In that aspect, deterrence works.

 Paternoster (2010) writes that community policing ideas have been brought forward with the use of police crackdowns and intensified surveillance in ‘hot spot’ areas. Jurisdictions have also attempted to increase deterrence through mandatory sentencing, sentencing enhancements, ‘three strikes’ laws, all in hopes of reducing the crime rate through deterrence. Based on my experience, training, and education I am of the belief that deterrence is weak. Its effect is very difficult to be measured, but with the recidivism rates as high as they are it shows no ground. Returning to Beccaria and Bentham, humans can make their own choices rationally.

 Incarceration comes with its own set of challenges: loss of freedom, the threat of violence from other inmates, limited contact from family, and other deprivations. Incarceration is a punishment. Crank and Brezina (n.d) offer that being in prison is not deterrence enough to decrease the recidivism rate. These authors use research data to conclude that previous inmates do not look as incarceration alone enough to keep them from going back to prison a second time. I have seen this attitude among both juveniles and adults when it comes to being incarcerated. A specific juvenile stated to me that going to prison is mandatory to maintain the love and support from his family. A specific adult offender noted to me that he would rather go to prison and do his time than to go to any other community resource such as a halfway house or electronic monitor.


 Rehabilitation has been around since the 1960s. Zebulon Brockway was dubbed ‘the father of rehabilitative ideal’ and a proponent of the indeterminate sentencing (Grasso, 2017). The idea of rehabilitation in prison is not a worthy outcast. When a person enters prison, they are submitted to world much different than normal society. They have become institutionalized and psychologically the inmate may be accustomed to the daily routine of the facility. This routine leads or accompanies a psychological side of the inmate. The routine can eventually make the inmate unable to subscribe to society norms, therefore placing them in the recidivism category.

 Reform of an offender does not seem to be the norm. This is based on the recidivism rate. Everyone admitted into the correctional system goes through a risk assessment. It does not matter if the inmate is juvenile, mentally disadvantaged, substance abuser, sex offender, or violent offender. This risk assessment allows the system to place an inmate in the proper facility along with the proper population.


 Restitution is the idea that the victim will be paid in full. Criminal restitution brings forth that as a victim the offender will ‘make whole’ from which the offender was damaged. Whether it be property or otherwise, the victim will receive reparation, or compensation, for their property, mental anguish, or physical anguish. At times, there is no regard towards the offender as to the Sixth Amendment or Eighth Amendment. Courts have asked questions: was there loss to the victim, what was the severity, and was there a weapon used. These questions are part of the risk assessment to ascertain the state of mind of the offender. The court wishes to make a victim whole economically, emotionally, and psychologically (Lollar, 2014). More often, the offender does not comply with this order of paying restitution monetarily. There are several times that an offender will be required to pay court fees and restitution. This also is usually not paid.

 In conclusion, the goals of punishment are not met in my opinion. There are always lags in the system that only play to the role of placing a convicted offender in a prison without regard to meeting the needs of the offender. Needs of the offender are not often met for benefit of keeping the community safe. The term ‘corrections’ is met to the maximum extent.


Crank, B., & Brezina, T. (n.d). “Prison Will Either Make Ya or Break Ya”: Punishment, Deterrence, and the Criminal Lifestyle. Deviant Behavior, 34(10), 782-802.

Grasso, A. (2017). Broken Beyond Repair: Rehabilitative Penology and American Political Development. Political Research Quarterly, 70(2), 394. doi:10.1177/1065912917695189

Lollar, C. E. (2014). What Is Criminal Restitution?. Iowa Law Review, 10093.

Paternoster, R. (2010). HOW MUCH DO WE REALLY KNOW ABOUT CRIMINAL DETERRENCE?. The Journal Of Criminal Law And Criminology (1973-), (3), 765.

Sommers, T. t. (2016). The Three Rs: Retribution, Revenge, and Reparation. Philosophia, 44(2), 327-342.

Stefanovska, V., & Jovanova, N. (2017). Deterrence and Incapacitation Effects of the Criminal


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