Punishments vary in their underlying philosophy and form. Major punishment philosophies include retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation, and restoration. The form of punishment may be classified as either formal or informal in terms of the organization and legitimate authority of the sanctioning body. Sanctions also vary in their valence or direction. Positive sanctions for “good behavior” include various types of praise, awards, and rewards, whereas negative sanctions are associated with various types of punishments. Our focus on punishment dictates an emphasis on negative sanctions.
This chapter reviews these punishment philosophies and the types of punishment within a comparative historical context. Detailed comparisons of current practices across world regions and case studies in particular countries will be conducted in later chapters. Here, our focus is on the general philosophical orientations and justifications for punishment and their various forms.
PHILOSOPHIES OF PUNISHMENT
Punishment serves numerous social-control functions, but it is usually justified on the principles of retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and/or restoration. The specific principles that underlie these dominant philosophies for punishment are summarized below.
One of the oldest and most basic justifications for punishment involves the principles of revenge and retribution. This equation of punishment with the gravity of the offense is embedded in the Judeo-Christian tradition in the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament that emphasize the idea of “an eye for an eye.” Neither constrained by questions of offender culpability nor directed at preventing future wrongdoing, offenders under a retributive philosophy simply get what they deserve.