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Application of punishment in clinical justice system


Punishment is considered the major approach in managing criminal behaviors in most jurisdictions. A number of analysis conducted on punishment revealed that it is considered the most appropriate tool in reshaping individual behavior. Nevertheless, considerable controversy have been put forth on the effectiveness of punishment in attaining criminal justice, and whether the method is the most appropriate in conforming an offender back to the society (Neubauer & Fradella, 2015). DeLisi and Vaughn (2014) argued that the use of punishment alone in response to crime does not foster safety in the communities, but rather leads to the expansion of prisons harboring more criminals that will cause more harm than good. Similarly, Joyce (2016) has pointed out that increased prison time only heightens recidivism and increases the rates of re-offense. The adoption of punitive measures are likely to culminate in more than 25% re-offenses that are overly destructive in any judicial system, as such, the scholars hold that punishment alone cannot be used to attain criminal justice or safety in a community.

On the contrary, proponents of the use of punishment in deterring crime, argues that the approach is likely to be effective. To them punishment serves the retribution purpose of instilling fear and pain to the offenders (Barnes, 2014). The motive underlying retributive impulse is to ascertain that the offenders pay for their action and that they do not benefit from their criminal acts (Joyce, 2016). Whether the approach support the attainment of justice or address the rising number of criminal activities is an issue that has been overly been rejected by the opponents (Van Ness & Strong, 2014). Empirical findings in the use of punishment within the criminal justice systems remain inconsistent. Though, much evidence suggests that the adoption of punishment (punitive) method of deterring crime is ineffective and likely to cause more harm. Most jurisdictions are moving to new horizons of crime management that do not only focus only on punishment but also consider rehabilitation and restorative strategy in controlling crime. The current paper presents a discussion on the different ways through which punishment is applied in criminal justice, identifying the challenges observed, as well as pointing out on the most suitable approach that needs to be put in place to effectively manage crime within the society.


The mandate of this conference paper is to avail comprehensive information on how to effectively address the issue of crime in a society. Historically, punishment has been the method adopted in most judicial systems as a method of deterring crime. However, as reported in different communities, the approach resulted in increased cases of re-offence indicating that the approach as not effective enough in the management of crime (Van Ness & Strong, 2014). This was due to the fact that punishment was applied as a retaliation to inflict pain, proportionate to the offense, on the offender. Recent development has seen people moving towards the application of punishment in different ways that focus on rehabilitation, deterrence, incapacitation, amongst others. This conference paper gives more insights on the different punishment application methods that are currently supported in most criminal justice systems, identifying their weaknesses and effectiveness. A recommendation on the most effective approach that needs to be implemented is also presented.

Discussion and Critical Analysis

Punitive justice has remained the predominant method adopting to deter criminal acts. Under this approach, punishment is applied to serve the purpose of deterrence, retribution, or incapacitation. Through this application, it is believed that punishment will ensure the criminals do not benefit from the act as well as prevent them from engaging in a similar or any other criminal act (Joyce, 2016). Punitive justice has its benefits; the retributive response speaks out the prohibited nature of the act to both the offender and the punisher. Similarly, the incapacitation response eliminates any form of benefits accrued from the act (Neubauer & Fradella, 2015). The cost imposed on the offender is a complete deterrent from being involved in a similar criminal act, thus averting future recidivism. Punishment is also likely to lead to general and/or individual deterrence that will further bar the offenders and the public at large from engaging in such criminal acts. To some extent the application of punishment to achieve the goal of deterrence, incapacitation and retribution can lead to the control of crime.

The issue of exclusion however, makes punitive justice lest effective in crime deterrence. According to Van Ness and Strong (2014) many offenders are likely to defiant punishment when it is punitively applied. Forceful application of punishment is likely to lead to the formation of rebellious group, thus making the punishment approach counter-productive. Labeling theory indicates that “an individual becomes what he/she is described as being”. Incapacitated and deterred offenders labeled as criminal are likely to consider continuing with the same act (Payne & Welch, 2015). Increased delinquent, more association with other offenders, reduced social aspirations are the main outcome of punitive punishment that are likely to lead to subsequent offending. When applied punitively, punishment only serves the purpose of exclusion, making it less effective in the management of crime.

New developments have seen the consideration of inclusions in the application of punishment within the justice system. The negative consequences of punitive application of punishment can be attained when punishment application is suffused with inclusionary social relations (Neubauer & Fradella, 2015). According to Van Ness and Strong (2014) ensuring the behavior of the offender conforms with those of the group without excluding him/her from the group is likely to control rule infractions. The need to ensure inclusivity in application of punishment led to the emergence of rehabilitation. The main purpose of rehabilitation is to change the behavior of the offenders through treatment other than punishment. The rehabilitation approach was supported by the 1967 President’s Commission on Crime and Administration of Justice, incorporated in a number of statutes, and proclaimed by courts (Van Ness & Strong, 2014). Judges focused on carrying out evaluations to decide on the treatments to be accorded to the offenders so that they can be safely released to the society.

Rehabilitation became the dominant method of punishment application in the criminal justice system in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, in the last two decades, the approach has been rejected in many jurisdictions that have cited its weakness in expressing the moral disapproval of the offender. According to Van Ness and Strong (2014) rehabilitation approach gives an opportunity to the offender to receive quality services and resources that are in most cases not accessible to law abiding citizens. There is need for the offender to realize the consequences of his/her behavior thus making the rehabilitation process less authentic. Most jurisdictions are currently in favor of restorative application of punishment that focuses on highlighting the benefits of the punitive and rehabilitation approach. Restorative justice requires that rehabilitation is conducted in a participatory approach that includes the offender, the victim and the community at large (Payne & Welch, 2015). By agreeing that they breached the law and asking for forgiveness the offenders are likely to be integrated in the society in a way that could not be experienced through an individualistic rehabilitation approach (Van Ness & Strong, 2014). Restorative justice plays a major role in supporting deterrence from the criminal act as well as inclusion in the community, thus making it the most suitable way of applying punishment to criminals.

Conclusion and Way Forward

Punitive justice has the consequence of excluding or stigmatizing offenders through social labeling. However, this way of punishment application sends a clear message of accountability and moral obligation. Applying punishment for purposes of deterrence, incapacitation, or retribution results more in accountability, but offers minimal support towards integration of the offender into the community. On the other hand, rehabilitation supports the inclusion of the offender into the community; nevertheless, it does not clearly point out the moral disapproval of the criminal. As much as rehabilitation may offer individual support, it does not have the ties capable of rebuilding trust and consequently full integration into the community. Restorative justice combines the benefits of punitive and rehabilitation ways of applying justice. Apart from pointing out the moral offense of an individual, the approach gives an opportunity for the offender to be fully integrated in the community by supporting participatory discussions amongst the offenders, victims and the community. Restorative justice supports both accountability and integration of the offender into the community, thus should be considered in the execution of punishment in any criminal justice system.








Barnes, J. C. (2014). Catching the really bad guys: An assessment of the efficacy of the US criminal justice system. Journal of Criminal Justice42(4), 338-346.

DeLisi, M., & Vaughn, M. G. (2014). Foundation for a temperament-based theory of antisocial behavior and criminal justice system involvement. Journal of Criminal Justice42(1), 10-25.

Joyce, P. (2016). Criminal justice: An introduction. Routledge: London

Neubauer, D. W., & Fradella, H. F. (2015). America’s courts and the criminal justice system. Cengage Learning: Boston

Payne, A. A., & Welch, K. (2015). Restorative justice in schools: The influence of race on restorative discipline. Youth & Society47(4), 539-564.

Van Ness, D. W., & Strong, K. H. (2014). Restoring justice: An introduction to restorative justice. Routledge: London