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Four attitudes to crime and punishment
(This is an article by my husband Mike which I'd like to post here if that's OK.)

Four different attitudes to crime and punishment

The four principle approaches to crime and punishment are deterrence, retribution, intentionalism and environmentalism. All four have their advantages and disadvantages when considered from a logical, practical and/or moral viewpoint.

Let me illustrate the differences of emphasis between the various approaches. An advocate of deterrence will claim that the purpose of punishment is to deter crime. A retributionist claims that the purpose of punishment is to punish crime.

In the first case it is the consequences of the action that are seen as important. A criminal act is punished with the intention of discouraging other criminals from following the example.

In the second case it is the act itself that is punished and whether or not the punishment deters criminals is of no importance in the thinking of those who frame laws and prescribe penalties.

Thus for example (to illustrate the difference in approach at its most dramatic) an advocate of deterrence would claim that the death penalty deters murderers and would support it on those grounds. A retributionist would say that the act of murder requires the forfeiture of the murderer's life. Though both would support capital punishment it is for entirely different reasons.

Intentionalists and environmentalists may also support the death penalty but their approach to it will be entirely different. An intentionalist will consider the precipitating factors in a crime, whether the act was intentional and if so to what degree. They may well also consider the motives of the criminal (motive and intention are not at all the same thing) on deciding on what they consider an appropriate punishment. They will be flexible sentencers while deterrence advocates and retributionists cannot consistently support flexible sentencing.

Environmentalists share the beliefs of the intentionalists but go much further. They consider the background of the criminal, their psychological state, place great emphasis on motive and are always considering mitigating circumstances.

Both intentionalists and environmentalists want to know what caused the criminal act whereas to both retributionists and deterrence advocates that is irrelevant. Retributionists and deterrence supporters claim that an intentionalist or environmentalist approach leads to unfair and arbitrary justice because some people are punished more severely than others for the same crime. Intentionalists and environmentalists claim that the retributionist or deterrent approach leads to unfair and arbitrary justice because it is a 'one size fits all' approach that is unreasonably inflexible.

The discussion is often muddled both by the frequent confusion of motive and intention and, more fundamentally, by (particularly when the issue of capital punishment is being discussed) the use of a scattergun approach and the marrying together of morally incompatible positions.

Let me try and explain the problem in simple terms. What is the purpose of punishment? If it is retribution then all other considerations are irrelevant. Executing a murderer is no different from fining a speeding motorist. To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a crime is a crime is a crime.

Now if the purpose of punishment is deterrence than the whole focus of the law is on discouraging others from emulating those actions. A murderer is executed in order to prevent future murders.

Now many people - both pro and anti (though perhaps this mistake is more common among pros) - often try and conflate the two positions together. They argue both that capital punishment is a deterrent and that is the appropriate punishment for murder.

What they do not seem to realise is that the two positions are morally and logically incompatible. Either the effect of the punishment - its deterrence - is important or the reason for it - retribution - is important. Logically the punishment can only be awarded on the basis of one or other of these beliefs and NOT of both.

In practice the law has always operated on a retributionist model rather than any belief in deterrence. All the available evidence, both historical and contemporary, has shown a singular LACK of credibility in terms of any form of punishment acting as a deterrent to crime.

Retributionism has been much criticised in recent years but it is a far more defensible position than deterrence on moral, logical and factual grounds. Surely all forms of punishment must in essence be at least partly retributive in their intention?

Where environmentalists and intentionalists score is not that they do not accept the retributive aspect of punishment but they believe that the punishment has to be tailored to individual circumstances.

But it is hard from both a moral and logical viewpoint to see how punishment can ultimately rest upon any other sanction than retribution, or, as the more excitable antis like to refer to it, revenge.

Like most theories of crime and punishment every position has strengths and weaknesses but I hope that I have helped to clarify some of the grey areas in this controversial subject.

Mike Marshall (my husband)
Category: Community | Views: 791 | Added by: biglin | Rating: 4.7/3
Total comments: 1
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Interesting article. I meant to give it five stars but I was using a tablet keyboard. blink

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