A major issue in criminal justice is sentencing. America’s court system has struggled to balance competing goals and policies in regards to criminal sentencing. This paper explores the ideas behind changes made to the sentencing policies with the United States judicial system. It begins with an overview of the goals behind criminal sentencing. This paper concludes with a discussion on the current status and disparities involving criminal sentencing.
In The Limits of Criminal Sanction, Herbert Packer said that criminal punishment should serve two purposes; “deserved infliction of suffering on evil doers” and “the prevention of crime” (Packer, 1968, pp. 36-37). Punishment of offenders in the United States is delivered through criminal sentencing. Sentencing is defined as “the imposition of a criminal sanction by a judicial authority” (Seiter, 2008, p. 40) When examining criminal sentencing, one must first understand the basic theories associated with the punishments given to criminals. There are five main goals/theories behind criminal sentencing; punishment, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and restitution.
Historically, punishment has been the most dominant goal in criminal sentencing. Punishment, as Herbert Packer described, emphasizes the infliction of pain or suffering. In the United States, we believe punishment is necessary to maintain order and show fairness to those who do not violate the rules and laws we live by. Punishment is used on many different levels. We use it from the basics to teach children right from wrong, and we use it as a means to deal with societies most despicable offenders. Punishment in this sense also serves as retribution.
Retribution is the idea that someone should be punished based on what they did. Often described using the adage “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, retribution relies on the
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