Criminal Justice Theory: An Introduction

By Roger Hopkins Burke | Go to book overview

6 Punishment in modern society

This chapter discusses the philosophy and theory of punishment in modern societies and locates this debate in the context of the four models of criminal justice development that provide the theoretical underpinnings of this text. It is important to remember that all too often punishment is considered to be a distinct and separate entity from the understanding of penology but it is impossible to legitimately understand one without the other, for imprisonment is, next to capital punishment, the harshest and certainly one of the most commonly used sentences. Without the acknowledgement of penal realities, justifications for punishment become mere intellectual debate. Trying to make sense of familiar concepts such as ‘making the punishment fit the crime’, is not strictly a theoretical question and these are not just philosophical matters of concern to academia. These questions have great practical relevance within the criminal justice process generally and the penal system specifically. By bringing the two together, locating penal trends in theory, and grounding theory in policy, the totality becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

According to an old Muslim legend, there was once a rich king who left his servant in charge of his kingdom and in receipt of his riches, while he went on a long journey. Upon returning to his kingdom he found to his dismay that his servant had stolen some of his treasures. The rich king took the servant in front of the judge for sentencing. The judge ordered that both the servant and the king should be punished; the servant because he had broken the law, and the king because, by leaving such a great temptation in the hands of a person with so few possessions and possibly weak character (both realities which the king should have been able to assess), the king was in fact causing the man harm (Ellis and Ellis, 1989).

Interpreted broadly, this ancient parable highlights some of the most persistent questions in the philosophy of punishment and penology. Contemporary urban industrial modern societies appear to be overrun with crime and deviance and it is thus questionable who exactly should be considered culpable and punished. Should primary or even sole responsibility rest with the individual who has committed the act, the offender, or might we ask whether an indictment should be read against the social institutions which have created a society which has produced so many criminals?

These issues are at the heart of the philosophy of punishment and this chapter will consider the main justifications for its implementation and what theorists from

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Criminal Justice Theory: An Introduction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Criminal Justice Theory i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • 1- Introduction - Modernity and Criminal Justice 1
  • 2- Explaining Crime and Criminal Behaviour 29
  • 3- The Philosophy of Law and Legal Ethics 58
  • 4- Policing Modern Society 84
  • 5- The Legal Process in Modern Society 111
  • 6- Punishment in Modern Society 144
  • 7- Youth Justice in Modern Society 172
  • 8- Conclusions - The Future of Criminal Justice 194
  • Notes 215
  • References 222
  • Author Index 249
  • Subject Index 256
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