The Goals of Sentencing in the Criminal Justice System
By: Brian Ouellette
Mr. Leonardo Cadogan
In the United States there is no standard when it comes to punishment and sentencing. This area of the criminal justice system is in a constant state of change. Sentencing practices and goals are always being closely examined. From "getting tough on crime" to more rehabilitative approaches, the views and goals of sentencing are always being corrected.
Since time began, there was crime and with crime came the need to punish criminals. How criminals were punished and the methods behind the punishment changed throughout the times. Standards of punishment moved from banishment and fines to torture and “blood feuds” (Siegel & Senna, 2005). A more organized system of punishment came with the formation of Common Law, which was brought over to the United States from England. With the development of a system, there was a move away from physical punishment toward methods more acceptably used today in the United States. Today there are many things the criminal justice system plans to do by introducing punishments and sentences. Goals of punishment have moved from satisfying the victim, as in early days, to more of a broad scale. There are theories on how punishment and sentencing may serve to reduce crime as a whole. General and specific deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, and restoration are just some of these goals. According to Barlow, general deterrence is the idea that, "people refrain from crime because they fear the punishment that others have received" (2000). This means that one might be deterred from committing a crime if he or she knows it carries a harsh punishment. This points out that many criminals do not take the time to consider punishment. Many of them do not believe they will be the one to get caught. Also, general deterrence does not take into account the frame of mind a criminal is in at the time of the crime. Logic may be the last thing on their mind. In spite of long running support of this idea, there is no strong evidence to support general deterrence. But just because it has not been scientifically proven, does not mean it has been disproved. It is likely that the threat of a swift and severe punishment may deter some criminals from committing some criminal acts under some circumstances, but the specifics have not been found (Barlow, 2000). Specific deterrence is similar to general deterrence, but on a smaller scale. It assumes that a swift and severe punishment will stop criminals from committing an act again. You can compare specific deterrence to disciplining a child. You hope that by disciplining a child for misbehaving, they will stop the unwanted action. Unfortunately in the criminal world, this doesn't always work. According to Siegel and Senna, more than sixty-eight percent of inmates released from prison will fall back into the same pattern (2005). Career criminals are unaffected by specific deterrence. A criminal cannot commit new crimes on the street when they are locked up in a prison. This is the idea behind incapacitation. Barlow defines incapacitation as, "punishment that removes or reduces the opportunity to commit crime" (2000). Incapacitation includes imprisonment, as well as the ultimate incapacitator, capital punishment. It is true that someone cannot rob a liquor store when they are imprisoned, but that does not necessarily mean they cannot commit crimes. In fact, being in prison can sometimes encourage new criminal behavior. Everything from assaults, rapes and even murders occur in prisons across the country. Inmates can also learn ways to perfect their criminal life. As with other theories of punishment there is research that negates and research that supports incapacitation....
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