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Why Do We Punish???. Dr. Matthew Robinson CJ 3532, Injustice in America Appalachian State University. Main Reasons to Punish. Retribution Deterrence Incapacitation Rehabilitation (also Restoration). There are at least two meanings:

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Why Do We Punish???

Dr. Matthew Robinson

CJ 3532, Injustice in America

Appalachian State University

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Main Reasons to Punish

  • Retribution

  • Deterrence

  • Incapacitation

  • Rehabilitation

  • (also Restoration)

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There are at least two meanings:

1) emotional response aimed at getting even (vengeance or “just desserts”)

2) rational response aimed at righting a wrong (retribution or “justice”)

The first is private but the second is public

The first is not justified by law but the second is justified

The first entails the offender being paid back by the victim but the second entails the offender paying back society

The first is only a natural emotion rooted in our biology but the second is also about socialization


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Is there really vengeance?

  • Murderers are now executed using lethal injection (much easier than their heinous crimes)

  • And, we do not give other types of offenders punishment that equals their crimes (e.g., burn homes of arsonists, rape rapists, take cars of car thieves, rob robbers, etc.)

  • So do we ever really get even with them?

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There are at least two meanings:

1) Special (or specific) Deterrence aimed at creating fear in the offender by punishment so that he or she will not commit another crime

2) General Deterrence aimed at creating fear in all members of society by sending a message through punishment of an offender so that we will not commit crimes


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The Logic of Deterrence

  • Gosh, it makes sense at least! …here’s an example

  • How do you stop a dog from peeing on the floor?

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The Logic of Deterrence

  • Why do we punish a dog for peeing on the floor?

  • To make it not do it again (PREVENTION)

  • We assume dogs learn through punishment …

  • As do cats, other animals, and PEOPLE! …

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The Logic of Deterrence

  • When it comes to humans, we assume:

  • People are hedonistic (pleasure-seeking)

  • People want to avoid pain such as punishment (deterrence)

  • People are rational (can think in advance of behavior)

  • So the thought of punishment should deter … and seeing punishment administered to others should deter

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The Logic of Deterrence

  • BUT …

  • Just because deterrence is logical, does this mean that the punishment IS ACTUALLY A DETERRENT ???

  • (What does the evidence say?)

  • Hint: it is not good …

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Logic of Deterrence

  • For punishment to deter, it must be:

  • Certain – highly likely to happen

  • Swift – occur quickly after the offense

  • Severe – pain must outweigh the pleasure

  • Most important element is CERTAINTY

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Summary of Evidence

  • Is punishment certain in the US?

  • Out of 100 crimes, 40 are known to police (40%)

  • Of these 40, 10 lead to an arrest (10%)

  • And 2-3 get incarcerated (2-3%) …

  • So the odds of getting caught are 10% and the odds of severe punishment are 2-3%

  • (and offenders know this!)

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Summary of Evidence

  • Why do so few get caught?

  • For every 1,000 people, there are 50-80 serious criminals …

  • And 920-950 occasional criminals …

  • But only 2.86 cops!

  • How can getting caught be certain???

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  • Incapacitation is “taking away one’s ability to commit another crime so that it is impossible to commit more crimes”

  • While typical forms include probation, incarceration, the ultimate form is death!

  • The death penalty achieves this!

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  • Includes:

  • Selective incapacitation (repeat offenders)

  • Collective incapacitation (all offenders)

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Which forms of incapacitation work?

  • Most major forms of punishment fail more than 50% of the time

  • Recidivism rate is above 50% for most forms of punishment

  • Some criminal justice interventions work!

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Arresting domestic violence offenders

Extra police in “hot spots”

Monitor high risk offenders

Which forms of incapacitation work?

  • Incarcerating high-risk offenders

  • Vocational education for older, male offenders

  • Community treatment for drug offenders (e.g., drug courts)