A Christian Worldview of Punishment
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Various responses and approaches to handling crime relate to theoretical practices. Practices in such aspect of crime as punishment, for instance, are based on theories like: (1) rehabilitation, (2) retribution, (3) deterrence, and (4) incapacitation. Considering these theories, the objective of writing the report is to explore and gain understanding of these theories. Each theory will be analyzed using existing relevant literature. To expand the analysis of theories in punishment, the review will be influenced by Christian worldview. After defining theories in punishment, the concepts will be evaluated based on various Biblical teachings and principles. Moreover, a solid Christian worldview will be developed based on those teachings and principles. The analysis will also involve the identification of the punishment theory that is closely related to the chosen Christian worldview. Overall, the study of of punishment in the research will be approached through the application and integration of views and perspectives related to Christianity.
Theories of Punishment
As previously discussed, there are various theories of punishment. The first theory is rehabilitation, which is closely related to the goals and objectives of treatments that seek to change the behavior of individuals. The goal of those who apply rehabilitation as a punishment to crime is to help individuals to develop and exhibit normal and non-deviant behavior. “Rehabilitations begin with the premise that it is normal to be good and law abiding, and that committing crimes is an aberration that is often attributable to some type of behavior deficiency” (Scaros, 2011, p. 286). The deviant behavior, according to individuals who endorse rehabilitation, could be changed or altered through a series of treatments that involve the individual realizing his or her mistakes, acknowledging the need to change his or her behavior, and eventually following steps to actually change those. Therefore, rehabilitation is an approach that focuses on the corrective aspect of punishment. Overall, the theory of rehabilitation claims that “the punishment itself will reform the offender” (Blue, Naden, & Sarat, 2001, p. 17), such that being dealt with punishment, whether paying fines, community service or serving jail time, will make the offender realize his or her mistakes, and, therefore, encourage him or her to avoid the deviant behavior in the future.
While the theory of rehabilitation focuses on the corrective aspect of punishment, the theory of retribution is rooted on emotion that is motivated or influenced by revenge (Scaros, 2011). Moreover, while rehabilitation focuses on change, specifically in altering the behavior of offenders, retribution focuses on the accountability and responsibility of the offender. Endorsers of retribution stand by the idea that offenders must be held liable and accountable for their actions, and as a means to punish them for deviant behavior, they must get punishment that equates to the damage caused by their actions (Mackenzie, 1981). “Retribution is the theory that punishment is justified because it is deserved” (Banks, 2004, p. 109). Retribution primarily focuses on how the offender and society could give back to people or groups who are suffering because of the consequences of such behavior. In practice, the theory of retribution is best representedby death sentences granted to offenders who murdered people.
In addition to rehabilitation and retribution, there is yet another theory in punishment, called deterrence. There are two types of deterrence: (1) general deterrence and (2) specific deterrence. General deterrence refers to the practice of looking at a punishment from a larger perspective. Rehabilitation focuses on changing or correcting the behavior of offenders, while retribution focuses on providing appropriate punishment to offenders. Deterrence, on the other hand, focuses on designing punishment so as to discourage other people from committing a crime. Therefore, deterrence focuses on the types of punishment and relies on the severity of these punishments to discourage individuals from committing deviant acts. Endorsers of general deterrence believe that “the more severe the punishment… the less likely another person would commit a similar or identical crime” (Scaros, 2011, p. 286). Specific deterrence, on the other hand, focuses on providing a punishment that would discourage the criminal specifically from committing the same crime in the future. Specific deterrence is “a reason to punish with a focus on preventing the criminal from ever committing a crime (particularly the one for which he or she is punished) ever again” (Scaros, 2011, p. 286). Furthermore, those who support deterrence as an appropriate punishment believe that people are rational individuals who understand the relation between their crimes and the punishment they receive. Individuals, according to practitioners of deterrence, are capable of rational judgment and viewing punishment by equating their crimes to the amount of punishment they receive. As a consequence, deterrent punishments cause people to “weigh the benefits and costs of future actions before deciding to act” (Regoli & Hewitt, 2009, p. 229).
The theory of incapacitation in punishment refers to the act of preventing criminal behavior by restraining individuals to do so. The theory operates on the assumption that “crime can be prevented if criminals are physically restrained” (Newubauer & Fradella, 2010, p. 374). Punishments related to incapacitation focus on the time of the sentence, such that criminals who committed heavier crimes are locked up in prison for a longer time. As long as they are in prison, their inability to commit crimes is guaranteed (Samaha, 2005). Incapacitation is a straightforward strategy, because criminals are directly punished and brought to jail, so as to show them the severity of their actions. However, the theory also faces various criticisms from people who endorse the three theories previously discussed. According to critics, incapacitation is ineffective in itself because it does not focus on the long-term implications of punishment. Criminals are punished by being put to jail, but without other practices like rehabilitation and deterrence, they would fail to realize the need for them to change their behavior not only in prison, but also after they are released from jail.
Theories of Punishment and the Bible
Some concepts in the Bible support various theories of punishment. Retributive justice, for instance, is represented in such a passage in the Holy Bible: “Eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life” (Banks, 2004, p. 109). The idea is the basis for the concepts and practices endorsed by those whho support retribution as a means for punishment. Various stories and incidents in the Bible also show how God exacted retribution for sinners. In Genesis, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, they were punished by being banished from Eden. God punished them with shame and hard labor, as they had to live outside Eden, where men had to toil and women would endure the difficulty of childbirth. The story of Noah also illustrates retributive justice in the Bible, such that all the sinners who refused to repent were cursed to die during the flood (Smith & Weisstub, 1983; Allen, 1997). However, the Bible also supports other theories of punishment, like rehabilitation. In the book of Leviticus, God talks about the importance of change and how He delights in seeing people change for the better. “Leviticus 26:23 reveals that the Lord is moved by a reformatory impulse in punishing is people, and Deuteronomy 4:36… teaches that the giving of the law had itself a reformatory aim” (Elwell, 2001, p. 266).
Practices of deterrence and incapacitation as forms of punishment could also be cited from the Bible. Moses and his inclination to punishing his own children relates to specific deterrence, such that he exacts punishments to members of his family with the goal of preventing or discouraging them from exhibiting bad behavior when they are in public and with other people. Moreover, God’s other punishments also focus on rehabilitation and deterrence. For instance, according to God, people should remember what happened to sinners who died during the flood. The rainbow is the reminder of the events that happened at that time (Elwell, 2001). How prisoners were treated – being shackled, trapped in a den of lions, etc. – also shows how incapacitation is practiced in the Bible (Siegel, 2005).
Since the Bible represents all the theories of punishment, not all of the examples were supported or enacted by God. Therefore, the Christian worldview of punishment would be based on the actual punishments that God exacted on man – retributive, rehabilitation, and deterrence. Punishment would be inefficient if the criminal justice system merely abides by one theory exclusively. A combination of some of the theories is necessary in order to arrive at specific punishments that would yield the best results not only for criminals, but also for the society as a whole. The most important theory and practice in punishment, however, is rehabilitation, because it looks at the issue from the long-term perspective. Rehabilitation focuses on change and the only way to ensure that criminals do not repeat their offenses is make them realize their mistakes and understand that they need to change. Ultimately, rehabilitation focuses on allowing people to discern right from wrong, and if people are capable of doing so, they will most likely avoid doing criminal activities. In a way, rehabilitation may be equated to incapacitation and deterrence. If criminals change and learn what is right and wrong, their conscience and healthy judgment would incapacitate and deter them from committing crimes. Rehabilitation will not work, however, especially in serious cases. Retribution is also necessary, because it would help to limit or restrict people from committing heavier crimes. Overall, punishment should be viewed from multiple perspectives by allowing various theories to influence practices and strategies.
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