Crime and punishment

Why do we punish criminals? That is, what is the purpose of penalizing those who break the rules which we accept as limitations on our actions?1

So far, I’ve been able to categorize, or at least to put into lists, various reasons for the penalties we exact. What I’ve come up with is this.

Penalties are decreed/enforced for three groups:

The first group is the guilty party, the criminal. Penalties are intended to

  1. punsh him for his action (or inaction)
  2. discourage him from further violations

The second group is society at large. Penalties are intended to

  1. satisfy collective outrage
  2. discourage others from similar violations

The third group is the victim. Penalties are intended to

  1. repay the victim for his loss
  2. impose retribution on the guilty

Which of those are the more important, which the less? Have I omitted any which ought to be included, or included any which do not belong?

These questions are more or less rhetorical, but feel free to answer them if you wish. This is still a rough draft of an idea; usually I wait until an idea is fully formed, or its presentation has been edited and revised a few times, before throwing it out in public.

So this is an on-going exercise. Experiment. There are (I hope) obvious connections to a few earlier posts. I want to develop a clear statement of my own beliefs about the way things are, and possibly to suggest how they might be made better.


  1. Don’t yet quibble with the terminology. I’m trying to generate a rational analysis here. This is simply a starting point.  ↩
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