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Just Dessert

By sta2288 Jan 09, 2012 814 Words
Just Dessert

Just Dessert
It is a normal feeling for people in our society to want someone to be punished for the crime they commit. Without any type of punishment it feels like justice was not served especially when there is a victim involved. This in many people’s eyes is a way to justify punishment and it is based on the just dessert theory. With this theory it is the belief that a person should be punished based on the harm they caused and the crime they committed. In other words the punishment should fit the crime. People who are for just dessert believe that retribution justifies punishment because it is deserving based on the crime. Where the opposing side believes that justification of punishment lies in the ability to prevent or minimize future harm. Arguments in Favor of Just Dessert

When researching just dessert I found three particular arguments in favor of the just dessert theory. The first argument is that the punishment should be the same for all offenders based on the crime they committed. This is considered to be fair and justified punishment because it is deserving of the crime committed. The second argument supports that just dessert encompasses fair treatment both to the vulnerable in society and victims rather than just the offenders. This allows the victims of crimes to know what type of justice they can expect. And finally the third argument believes that the just desert theory is the best way to explain the death penalty for murder because if an offender takes a life they would understand and expect that their punishment would be a sentence of death. Arguments Against Just Dessert

There are many arguments against the just desserts theory. Two significant arguments against the just dessert theory are that it gives an inadequate justification of bias or hate crimes and cannot explain the state’s democratic duty to protect the most vulnerable victims. Many opponents are concerned that the state legislatures will set unreasonably high sentences. Just dessert is also thought to be inflexible and fixed for every offender; very little if any consideration is given to the circumstances surrounding his or her crime. There is also a fear that just dessert would remove the rehabilitation aspect from prisons across the country. Those that choose to argue in favor of just dessert to support the continued use of the death penalty in the United States are missing, or choose to ignore, many fallacies with the argument of just dessert in support of the death penalty. An important point to keep in mind is that the United State is the only democracy in the world that still uses the death penalty as a possible punishment. (Foley, 2006). My Position is Against Just Dessert

My position was assigned to be against just dessert. While researching just dessert and exploring both sides of the argument I can understand why people are against just dessert. It would seem that this theory would not be beneficial when it comes to certain types of crimes. “When dealing with a case of a single individual who has committed a crime, participants appeared insensitive to the factors that should drive sentencing when utilitarian goals are the motivating force; it was the factors relevant to the just deserts perspective that determined sentencing.” (Carlsmith, Darley, & Robinson, 2002). The sentence at an individual level seems to come from a strictly deservingness-based stance rather than taking into consideration the circumstances surrounding the crime when it comes to deciding punishment. Although the type of crime may be similar, no crime is the same or committed for the same reason. The theory of just dessert is retrospective rather than prospective. “The punisher need not be concerned with future outcomes, only with providing punishment appropriate to the given harm. Although it is certainly preferable that the punishment serve a secondary function of inhibiting future harmdoing, its justification lies in righting a wrong, not in achieving some future benefit.” (Carlsmith, Darley, & Robinson, 2002). The belief is that the punishment should be proportionate to the harm the person caused. The problem becomes that our judicial system is not perfect and there are times when innocent people are convicted of a crime. If we utilize the just dessert theory with someone who was convicted of murder we would sentence them to death. If the person was later found to be not guilty we would have murdered an innocent person based on this theory.

Carlsmith, K. M., Darley, J. M., & Robinson, P. H. (2002). Why Do We Punish?: Deterrence and just deserts as motives for punishment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(2), 284-299. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.83.2.284 Foley, M. (2006). Toward Understanding the Death Penalty Debate. Retrieved from

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