"America imprisons 756 inmates per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the world's average. About one in every 31 adults in this country is in jail or on supervised release. Either we are the most evil people on earth or we are doing something very wrong." (Webb, 2009, p. 4) This paper will look at basic criminal law, the reasons for lives of crime, a brief outline of the modern criminal justice system, and its future.
Criminal LawCriminal law seeks to protect the public from harm by inflicting punishment upon those who have already done harm and by threatening with punishment those who are tempted to do harm. Most people accept that there are consequences for criminal conduct. The consequences are generally unpleasant and take away from the law breaker either his liberty or his property.
One purpose of criminal law is to respond to harmful acts committed by individuals. However, each type of law provides different responses. A person who acts in a way that is considered harmful to society in general may be prosecuted by the government in a criminal case. If the individual is convicted (found guilty) of the crime, he or she will be punished under criminal law by a fine, imprisonment, or death.
Once someone is found guilty of a crime, either a felony or a misdemeanor, punishment is imposed. The reasons for punishing law breakers are varied, and in some instances the reason may vary with the crime. Each reason has its own purpose, with the principal reasons being: Deterrence, Incapacitation, Retribution, and Rehabilitation. (Davenport, 2009)DeterrenceImposing a penalty for a criminal act is also intended to deter that person from repeating the act. If the penalty is significant enough, the law breaker will think twice before doing it again. Also, "when the penalties are well known and there is public dissemination of penalties for a particular crime, it is expected that others who might contemplate the crime would be deterred from engaging in the prohibited activity." (Clarkson, 2005, p. 38) When there is a trial, sentencing, and punishment imposed, there is often a lot of publicity. This publicity is part of the deterrent factor in imposing a criminal penalty. Deterrence is frequently an argument used to support the death penalty.
IncapacitationJail or prison terms generally lengthen with the seriousness of the crime. The longer sentences serve as both revenge and deterrence, and also can serve another purpose. The longer a person is in custody, the less opportunity that person has to commit new crimes. This is particularly true of repeat offenders, which is why there has been a movement toward laws known as three strikes which impose long prison terms or even life sentences on individuals with multiple convictions.
When an offender has not been deterred by prior penalties, protection of potential victims from that offender becomes an important consideration. Long jail or prison terms for individuals with multiple DUI's are becoming common as a protection for society. At some point it is in society's best interest to protect itself by certifying that a dangerous person is unable to harm others and incapacitation through custody serves that interest. (Farrington, 2003)Retribution"A crime is considered an act that not only injures the specific victim, but also harms society at large." (Davenport, 2009, p. 12) A person's harmful acts may outrage the society as a whole. This gives rise to a desire for revenge, and punishing the criminal tends to satisfy that need.
Additionally, having a person punished by society provides some measure of revenge for the specific victim of the act. If society provides an adequate punishment, the need for an individual to seek revenge personally is diminished and provides incentive to seek retribution through law enforcement. (Davenport, 2009)RehabilitationThere is also a value that every human life has meaning and worth, that there is a spark of good in everyone, even...
References: larkson, C. (2005). Understanding Criminal Law. London: Sweet & Maxwell Ltd.
Conklin, J. (2009). Criminology. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
Davenport, A. (2009). Basic Criminal Law: The Constitution, Procedure, and Crimes. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Press.
Farrington, D. (2003). Evidence-based Crime Prevention. New York: Routledge PressSchmalleger, F. (2007). Criminal Justice Today. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall Publishing.
Webb, J. (2009, March 29). What 's Wrong With Our Prisons? Parade, 4-5.
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