Mar 2, 2010

Philosophical Phun - Punishment

The concept of punishment during the past half-century has shown a marked drift away from efforts to reform and rehabilitate offenders in favor of retribution and incarceration. Punishment in its very conception is now acknowledged to be an inherently retributive practice, whatever may be the further role of retribution as a (or the) justification or goal of punishment.

Justifying the practice or institution of punishment must be kept distinct from justifying any given act of punishment.
  • Justification of the practice itself has reference to multiple considerations — social purposes, values, or goals of the community in which the practice is rooted.
  • The infliction of punishment is normally intended to cause, and usually does cause, some form of deprivation for the person being punished, the infliction of punishment provides unparalleled opportunity for abuse of power.
To justify punishment we must specify, first, what our goals are in establishing (or perpetuating) the practice itself. Second, we must show that when we punish we actually achieve these goals. Third, we must show that we cannot achieve these goals unless we punish (and punish in certain ways and not in others) and that we cannot achieve them with comparable or superior efficiency and fairness by nonpunitive interventions. Fourth, we must show that striving to achieve these goals by way of the imposition of deprivations is itself justified.

The entire argument for the justification of punishment unfolds in the belief that alternative, non-punitive methods of social control have been examined and rejected (or severely limited in scope) on the ground that they will not suffice — or will not work as well as punitive methods in securing compliance with just laws.

As the prisons in our states and country continue to fill, and due to budget constraints, we start to release convicted persons early (regardless of whether they have earned their release), I think it is time for us to truly examine our philosophy regarding punishment and incarceration.  To me, we need to stop sending minor offenders off to prison, especially with few programs to help rehabilitate them, and go for more inclusive and developmental programs.  Give treatment to a first time drug offender instead of sending them away for a minimum sentence.  Put a young man convicted of non-felonous theft into a mandatory training program and on house release instead of locking them up.  These types of actions will help make them contributing members to society much sooner than sending them away for hard lessons.  

For non-violent offenders, I am in favor of rehabilitation instead of incarceration.  It is cheaper, smarter, and more humane.

However, for violent offenders, or habitual offenders, I am much more of the mind set to send them away for a long time (do the crime - serve the time), no appeals, no good behavior, no special priviledges.

What are your thoughts?


For full discussion, click through to Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.


  1. Prison doesn't rehabiliate as much as it re-educates a criminal mind. I agree that those offenses deemed non-violent, the convicted persons should be sent to a rehabilitation program that might help them get back on track. if, however, after rehabilitation, they continuie with their criminal activity, then it's actual jail time.
    As for violent offenders. No special privileges. No shortened sentences. No movies. No libraries. No work-out rooms. It isn't a spa, it's prison.
    That said, i am vehemently anti-death penalty. Commit a murder and go to jail FOR LIFE. No parole ever. No excuses.

  2. Miss Ginger is from Texas... she says "Hang 'em!"

  3. I think that there are more interests that are concerned with making money thru incaceration and aren't concerned with rehabilitation. Not only are non violent offenders being given jail time, but people who are in need of mental health services are being placed in the system instead of getting the help that they need.

    Rehabilitation is an afterthought. I wonder why people have the impression that allowing an inmate the opportunity to go to school and reform is unfair?

  4. Agreed - prisons are important to keep the violent danger offenders out of society; they do not fix or rehabilitate, or make restitution for that matter, so are not the answer.

  5. Teach them to read, but keep the outside world safe! I agree with keeping the violent ones segragated from the minor offenders. Having taught in schools for the emotionally disturbed I can say that even at the age of ten years old one can pick out who will become the violent offenders. At the school the best we could do was to try to teach them to read, write, and do simple math; and to keep the violent ones away from the others.

  6. Uhhhmmmm, my thoughts are that I'm too dumb to comment on this shit.

    Sending love,


  7. Our prisons don't rehabilitate people, even though they were meant to. Those with offenses deemed non-violent should be sent to rehabilitation and offered education programs and have access to social programs, as many are severely disadvantaged in these respects. That means we have to put more money and public support toward those efforts. I particularly believe, as you do, that minor drug offenses and minor crimes should never get a person set to a prison. That just breeds a worse person. Severe repeat offenders would have to do jail time and violent offenders, especially repeat violent offenders would have to do life without parole in a prison.(No death penalty. We didn't create those lives, we have no right to take them.) As Bob states, in prison there should be no special privileges, no shortened sentences, and work, education, and library access would need to be granted based on behavior. I also agree with Bob that the day spa mentality has to go. You aren't five anymore, this is not your grandma's house, it is a prison. The less attractive prison is, the better off we will be.


Tell Me What You Think, Don't Make me go Rogue on you :o)