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.
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.