The processes by which justice is applied are determined largely by proposed punishment philosophies. These express various concerns and arguments regarding appropriate sentencing and treatment. The philosophy of rehabilitation dominates the proceedings of juvenile courts, and is heavily scrutinized at an adult level, or when the criminal behavior of juveniles continues to accelerate, but when successful is most beneficial for society. The appeals process advances the fair practice of law, helps ensure the rights of due process, and continues to clarify and define justice and the law.
The universality of justice is a predominant concern of any nation that strives for true democracy, and in the U.S., this pursuit is largely undertaken in the court system. If the general basis for an action to constitute a crime lies in the willful and unsanctioned dispossession of another's life, liberty, or property, then the punitive power of the state to deprive the transgressor of these same rights, in the name of justice, must be exacted with a similar degree of concern. To this end, a variety of punishment philosophies, giving differing weight to the interests of victims, criminals, and society, have developed to clarify the notion, and to influence the practice of justice. While the philosophies of deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, retribution, and restoration can be perceived to prioritize the considerations of victims and society, the handling of youth offenders in juvenile courts, as well as the appellate process, are expressions of consideration for the accused. It is largely agreed upon that punishment for the sole purpose of vengeance is detrimental to the ideals of justice and civility.
Sentencing for a crime is contingent upon numerous factors, which involve societal values, precedents, and individual judicial discretion; criminal statutes that vary by state and at a federal level set standard punishments for specific offenses, predominantly based on seriousness and criminal history. Sentencing guidelines, which are a reflection of political climate, social concerns, and punishment philosophies, have been criticized as a factor in prison overpopulation, and for being incompatible with a restorative punishment philosophy. The benefit of these guidelines, however, is that they encourage uniformity in the application of punishment, eliminating discrepancies that could arise as a result of judicial discretion, provide increased predictability for better resource management, and allow communities to focus punitive efforts on the areas of crime that most concern them, ideally reducing the sociological impacts of specific types of crime. For some offense, compulsory sentencing establishes a mandatory minimum incarceration period, which, if supplemented by the policy of truth-in-sentencing, ensures that an offender serve no less than this nondiscretionary requirement. Aside from these, most sentencing is determined through judicial discretion, derived from subscribed precedents, considerations of mitigating factors, and community standards. Overlying all sentencing are the ideological concerns expressed through influential punishment philosophies (Lubitz & Ross, 2001).
Punishment philosophies represent opinions as to what degree and form of punishment is appropriate, how and to whom it is beneficial, and what is represented in terms of societal values. Because the courts have the power to deprive an offender of property, through fines, seizures, and restitution, liberty, through incarceration, mandatory treatment facilities, and court-ordered service programs, and even life, through the most severe form of punishment, the death penalty, it is...
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