Punishment of Crimes in the US Criminal Justice System
One of the greatest challenges facing the criminal justice system is the need to balance the rights of accused criminals against society’s interest in imposing punishments on those convicted of crimes. The U.S. criminal justice system deals with punishment of those in violation of the law in several ways; retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and even the possibility of rehabilitation are all different options that are utilized by the U.S. today with those convicted of crimes. After reading selections from Emile Durkheim’s “Rules of Sociological Method”, I realize that although so much is done to prevent it and ultimately deter ordinary people and criminals alike from committing a crime, a society is unable to function without it. Durkheim makes a claim that although crime is “regrettable,” it is an “integrative element in any healthy society” (Durkheim: 98). It has been evident in almost every society around the globe that crime is an essential way in which we build social solidarity. The criminal justice system creates and maintains a powerful dynamic of solidarity through social exclusion of criminals and we can compare the different ways in which crimes are punished and their effect on that dynamic of social solidarity. Changes in U.S. politics have caused shifts in the theoretical purposes of sentencing and punishment. During the heyday of liberalism in the 1960s and 1970s, the judicial and executive branches (for example, parole boards) wielded power in sentencing. Legislators designed sentencing laws with rehabilitation in mind. More recently, during the politically conservative 1980s and 1990s, legislators seized power over sentencing, and a combination of theories—deterrence, retribution, and incapacitation—have influenced sentencing laws (Reynolds). Deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation are all arguments that look to the consequences of punishment; they are all forward-looking...
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