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Understanding the Role of Punishment in Society

  • 12 Pages
  • Published On: 12-12-2023
1. Discuss the purpose and goals of punishment [refer to prison or community sentences, or both. Produce a critical discussion supported with a range of academic evidence and references.

Human behaviour has been the product of societal growth and development from time immemorial. The relationship between human’s evolution and societal progress is co-dependent and has seen to affect the belief system, the moral constituency and the socio-cultural belief of the people at large. Therefore, as much as the society is responsible for housing socially relevant and decent citizens, the society is also responsible for designing a system for deviants, thus driving a complex deviant behaviour that may be a result of a societal construct that contributes to the existing criminal behaviour which can range from petty offences like breaking a traffic signal to a more stringent crime like murder. However, the need to restrain such criminal activity gives rise to the concept of punishment. It has bee argued by many that in order to allow a sanction to be imposed against a certain criminal act, then it must be ensured that such an act must entail the victim to be suffered through that “unpleasant act”and such can be categorised as a moral wrong against the public at large. Therefore, the hostile act committed must be against the legal conformities and against the authoritative or institutionalised rules.

The ultimate quest of the need of punishment encourages discussion of varied approaches. Either it can be the utilitarian approach or the retributive approach, ultimately answering on the lines of prevention of the further possibility of the similar criminal act that has caused sufficient injury to the victims. However, theoretically the utilitarian approach takes steps that deters the happening of such criminal activity, whereas the retributive approach is such that the offender is held responsible for his/her activity and the purpose of punishment is served when the offender is made to take responsibility of his action in anticipation that he/she may not undertake similar action in the future.


The thought of punishment gives a waving rise to a lot of questions, the common of all is the question as to why punishment is necessary. Prior to any proper governance in the Western Europe, around eighteenth and nineteenth century, punishing an individual was in the personal whim of the monarch or local representatives. There was very less liberty in that era where even a penny crime was subject to Capital Punishment.

  1. Bean, P. 1981. Punishment: A Philosophical and Criminological Inquiry. Oxford, England: Martin Robertson.

Philosophical study fails to determine the complexity and intricacy of the subject. There arises a lot of questions;

a) The ultimatum of punishment

b) The values and principles that must be promoted by the criminal law

c) Utility and importance of punishment

Another perspective proposed by the criminologists that focused on penalties and policy matters relevant to the punishment of offenders. Bean, a critic, stated that there is a lack of sociological implications in the light of social and personal characteristics of the offenders, as well as the methodology of the social control and the penal institutions. It is believed that deterrence acts in helping to prevent heinous crimes to repeat itself in the future by frightening the convicted person. Deterrence is further classified into two types, generally. Specific deterrence, which refers to an idea of fear instilling in the mind of the convicted by punishing him for the act he did so that there will be less tendency in committing crime. whereas, general deterrence refers to the same idea but focusing on the general public. It aims at setting an example of punishing the convicted in a matter that there will likely be less chances of committing crime by any of the individual in the general public with the fear of punishment.

Another semi-alternative of punishment is rehabilitating. It helps in preventing future crime by modifying a defendant’s behaviour. Rehabilitation includes institutional centres aims in improving a defendant’s behaviour, it also has vocational training, self-grooming institutions and counselling. Retribution is another a method of punishment where the defendant or the convicted is punished financially, where most of the money at his disposal is spent into the damages that he has to recover. Restitution may be for physical injuries, property damages and rarely emotional suffering. Retribution theorists states that an individual is a rational human being and thus is capable of thinking rationally and acting upon the circumstances he created on his own. The criminologist proposed an “offence-based-tariffs” which is a propaganda of punishing minorly for minor crimes and severely for greater crimes. The various philosophy of punishment may be attained with the help of non-custodial measures. Some rules scripted. Feinberg further adds that punishment says beyond disapproval, it stands for an expression of reflecting back at the criminal and portraying vindictive vengeful. H.Morris says that punishment is not served to manipulate but to mend the individuals psychologically and socially. But, Morris himself understood and stated that this idea or philosophy will fail to work for that set of individuals who are well aware of the society and understands them but, are against them. In conclusion, the philosophical perspective of punishment is ought to punishment whereas sociological perspective focuses on the relationship between a criminal and social responsibility.

  1., The purpose of criminal punishment,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021.
2. Biological and sociological theories of crime

Biological and sociological theories of crime help defining the genetic and societal parameters in triggering or influencing a person into committing a crime, respectively. It critically studies the behavioural pattern in an individual, including the inborn traits and those derived from a term of events, widely speaking, from the society as whole. Biological theory attempts to study such behavioural pattern contrary to the sociological theory. These theories are classified within a prototype called ‘positivism’ (also known as determinism), which claims that behaviours, including law-violating behaviours are calculated beyond human control and that, an individual is not acting upon his own will completely.

  1., Justifying punishment in the community,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021.
  2., The purpose of Criminal Punishment, accessed on 23rd March, 2021.
  3., biological theories of crime,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021.

Positivists theories classifies a factor of influence generally as an external one, and identifies potentially determinative of individual behaviour. Where a psychiatrist or a psychologist examines the mental functioning and development of an individual, sociological theories assess the impact of social structure in an individual. These may include his or her surrounding, strain, his or her raising up, sub-cultural theories, opportunity etc.). The theory believes that Social function and mechanism impact on an individual through different dimensions of societal interaction such as, social learning, social bond, labelling.

Biological theories can be diversified into following categories:

a) Those that suggest to determine differences among individuals on the basis of certain innate (in-born traits, physical trait or characteristics.

b) Those that suggest determining source of differences to genetic or hereditary characteristics.

c) Those that suggest distinguishing among individuals on the basis of structural, chemical or functional differences in the brain or body.

The Italian School of Criminology was founded in 19th century by Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), along with his two disciples Enrico Ferri (1856-1929) and, Raffaele Garofalo (1851-1934)

Lombroso believed in biogenetic or hereditary aspects of criminal behaviour, whose central idea arrived from an incident where he was conducting an autopsy of a notorious Italian alleged criminal, whose name was Giuseppe Villella. As Lombroso studied Villella’s skull, he noticed certain characteristics inside of it (specially occiput that he named the median occipital fossa), which reminded him of the skulls of species like apes, rodents and birds. Lombroso used a term to describe the appearance of the organism inside the skull imitating like that of a pre-human form of life, which was ‘Atavism’ which means a recurrence of an ancestral trait into an organism. Lombroso believed that ‘atavism’ could be identified in an individual through his/her bodily actions and/or traits. Those included uncannily large ears, enervated eyes, protruding jaw, tall arms, twisted and flattish nose and a coccyx. In addition to ‘Atavism’, Lombroso had indentified two other sub-dimensions of criminology; ‘insane criminal’ ‘criminaloid’. Where, ‘insane criminals’ was not defined as born criminals, ‘criminaloid’ was defined to be individuals having neither physical trait nor innate that would lead him or her to commit a crime but were categorized as “habitual criminals” who tend to become so by staying in touch with other criminals.

  1., Italian School of Criminology,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021.

Where the concept of ‘atavism’ was clearly wrong and demeaning to an individual, Lombroso gave the other theory some light by understanding the psychological behavioural pattern with reference to principles of evolution. If we talk about classical theorist and theories, they don’t believe much in causes of behaviours a according to them there is no inherent or uncontrollable or external factors in an individual’s behavioural pattern and is completely depending upon the actions they do. Classical thought emerged during the age of (mid 1600-late 1700) claimed that the humans behave on their own will have rational thoughts and are responsible for their own actions. According to classical theorists, an individual engages itself into thing that give them pleasure and avoid behaviours that are painful. It was believed by the classical theorists that punishment deter an individual from performing such act which are heinous in nature, and should be as relative as the crime done. Positivist criminology is classified into the following main elements:

a) To look for the actual cause of crime, be it biological psychological or sociological.

b) To use scientific theories and technologies into testing theories

c) To apply treatment method instead of punishing method as a response to law-violating or deviant behaviour.

The growth of modern scientific method is credited to Ibn al-Haytham (965–1039), an Iraqi-born scientist, who is the Author of ‘The Book of Optics’ between 1011 and 1021. The book shows a studied and details steps of evaluating an individual’s criminal mind, such as; noticing characters and behavioural changes, a verbal explanation as to why and how such issue is a problem, formulating of hypothesis,

  1., Rohit Bura, What are the biological theories of crime?,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021.
  2. Criminal-justice.iresearchnet,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021.

Experimenting the hypothesis using controlled experiments, critically analysing the examined results, interpretating the results and formulating them into an effective solution, publication or distribution of such interpreted solution among interested public.

The sociological study of crime or deviant behaviour lays stress on socially influenced factors or its immediate factors (poverty, social disorganization), believes to generate such behaviours or arenas (family, friends, school, colleague, peers) in which social or personal values get effected. A social learning theory, was examined with survey data on teen and adolescent drinking and drug behaviour. This theory was strongly condemned with a view that it has an influencing power resulting in deviant behaviour. An unparallel and notable exception in the social theory was proposed by Burgess and Akers (1966a). The original theory that was derived from the above-mentioned scholars was ‘differential association-reinforcement theory’, which evidently means the influenced behaviour by interacting with different associations. This theory of differential associations was revisited by the scholar Burgess and was originally developed by Edwin Sutherland, proposing that through interaction with other individuals, a person learns values, techniques, behavioural changes, and motive to be a criminal. Social disorganization plays a huge and vital role into triggering an individual’s normal behavioural pattern into a deviant one. An individual who is economically poor and is hungry may hunt for money and food through stealing or robbing or committing a murder. To some extent, both criminal and non-criminal individual are motivated by the social gain and money.

Sutherland has stated 9 principles of the theory different association:

a) A criminal behaviour is learned and not born with

b) A criminal behaviour is mostly learned by interacting to a social group or other person in the process of a communication.

c) Generally, the influential pattern comes from an intimate circle of groups.

d) When a criminal behaviour is learned, an individual also learns the technique of committing the crime, the motive, and also specializes in a few techniques.

e) An individual gets an idea of a crime from the definitions of the legal codes if favourable or not.

  1., Vibhana Anand, Differential Association Theory,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021.

f) An individual becomes delinquent because of the availability of definitions and explanations of favourable to violation of laws rather than unfavourable violation of laws.

g) Different associations may vary from each other in an order of velocity, intensity, priority, duration and frequency.

h) The procedure of an individual into learning a crime is as similar to any other learning, and observing skills.

i) While criminal behaviour is an expression of common needs and values at the least, it still cannot be brought into the parameters of those that of non-criminals.

Travis Hirschi introduced a social control theory that focused mainly on the ability to avoid any deviant behaviour or temptation. It was believed that an individual who is closer to his/her family and is attached, will tend less to commit a crime in his/her life. Because they have lived a conventional life and believes in the same society, they shall lose themselves from any criminal or deviant behaviour. Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi later introduced a general theory of crime based basically on low self-control. Where Hirschi’s former theory focused on the immediate behaviour or surrounding of an individual, the self-control theory restrains upon an idea of certain stable characteristics an individual has after they attain 8 or so. People with low self-control tend to be more impulsive, risk-taking people, short-tempered, short-sighted, more physical than verbal, oriented towards physical rather than mental activities.

Another theory called ‘Labelling theory’ came into existence which is very commonly stated in most of the parts of the world. It signifies that an individual who has already committed a crime will not be ready to be accepted by the society at large, or by the law-abiding people. This stigma controls their behavioural pattern even more and they tend to submit themselves into labelling themselves as criminals.

Where ‘Radical’ criminological theories focus on the greed of having power but pushes it in the political and economic structure of the society, the ‘economic’ criminology focuses on the neighbourhood behavioural that influences deviant behaviour.

  1., Criminology: Intellectual History,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021.

As a whole, criminology reads and represents a diversified body of knowledge that incorporates a wide variety of ideas and factual observations. Some of these works require a statistical and quantitative approach towards the increasing crime rate all over the world. Eventually, most of the criminologist tend to focus on identifying the factors in our surroundings and the society at large that are associated relatively into a small probability that they will commit crimes.

3. Primary Role of police in England and Wales

In a country, where there is safety, there is growth. For a promising and effective security, a country must authorize men with certain powers and significant roles in order to policing and maintaining security. Speaking about England and Wales, between 1964 and 2012, the authoritative positions and powers were delegated to the police officers, which were replaced by the post of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). With rising irresponsibility and lack of accountability of the police authorities, both Liberal Democrat as well as Conservative party set out to plan and outline new measures in order to manifest proper security in the country, through a public election. In 2010, It was decided that a directly elected individual shall be delegated the authority and will be subject to strict checks by the locally elected representatives.

In 2010, the Government published “policing in the 21st century” that created a visionary path towards effective policing and also introduced the police and crime commissioner. Following to this, the police reform and social responsibility Bill was introduced in 2010. The Bill received its royal acceptance on 15th September, 2011. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011 is an act of the parliament of the United Kingdom that delegates the control of Police reforms to a police and crime commissioner.

  1., 27 June 2018, Role of Police and Crime Commissioners,, accessed on 22nd March, 2021.

Under the light of Theresa Mary, Lady May (Home Secretary back then), policing protocol was made in November 2011 where the roles of PCCs, their relationships with chief constables were laid out. Elected for the first time on 15th November, 2012, the new crime commissioners took in charge on 22nd November, 2012 and served office for 3 and-a-half years but, subsequent elected commissioners are to be elected for four years term. Eradicating the framework of police officers, it was a new beginning; disciplinary checks were kept from time-to-time in order to create a safe and better environment.

The primary and foremost function of elected local policing bodies is to withhold the safety of the community and preventing any crime if such happens. According to section 2 of The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011, each police force must have its chief constable. The chief constable of the force has the power to direct and control a police force and the civilian staff of the police force. A police and crime commissioner has a duty to exercise section 22A of the Police Act 1996 where the proper and serious undertaking of work of the chief constable’s functions is checked upon. It is also one of the duties of the police and crime commissioner to function certain significant exercise in order to safeguard children and to promote child welfare that a chief constable is abided by sections 10 and 11 of the children Act, 2004.

Shortly, post to their election to the office, PCC(s) must draft a plan which terms as ‘Crime Plan’. While drafting or putting in variations, the police and the crime commissioner must meet and have a consultation with the relevant chief constable. While issuing and varying a crime plan, a police and crime commissioner must adhere to the decisive policing requirement provided by the Secretary of the State under section 37A of the Police Act, 1996. Panels are liable scrutinising commissioners' decisions and ensuring this information is out there to the general public. A police and crime panel may require the attendance of the commissioner or a member of his or her staff at any time, and has the authority to suspend a commissioner from office where he or she is charged with a significant criminal offence. A Police and crime commissioner must send a copy of the issued plan to the chief Constable and other persons for the fulfilment of the provisions of section 5 of Crime and Disorder Act, 1998. It is a police Officer’s and a crime commissioner’s duty to publish any relevant information or any information at the public interest. He is also liable to enable such information to persons authorized to assess the matters in reference to a particular time, or a particular period, as soon as practicable at that time.

  1. Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales: Guidance for candidates and agents" (PDF). The Electoral Commission. 2016.accessed on 22nd March, 2021
  2.,, accessed on 22nd March, 2021.
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A police and crime panel has their functions stated in different schedules. Such are; Schedule 1 (Procedure for appointment of senior staff), 5 (issuing precepts), 8 (Procedures ruled out by police and crime commissioners)

A police and Crime Commissioner is subject to produce an annual report as per section 12(1) of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011. In order to present the annual report, police or a crime commissioner must attend before the relevant crime panel while such meeting is/are held. It is under the responsibilities of the elected local policing to decide the manner in which the annual report shall publish and the manner a response or recommendation shall be published. A police or crime commissioner must have regard to any financial code of practice issued by the secretary of the states where the Secretary of State must keep revising the financial code and make changes if required. “Financial Code” refers to a code of practice setting out to be a formal and proper administration by elected local bodies of their financial affairs.

When it comes to appointment, a police and crime commissioner has to release their duties too. They are authorized to appoint a deputy police and crime commissioner and to delegate them with appropriate functions as such, that fall under their power and authority. As mentioned in section 34 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act, 2011, a chief officer of police must obtain views of persons of within every neighbourhood, regarding crime and disorder in that said area. A chief of police officer must make arrangements in order to inform local persons of such relevant police area regarding policing in that area. Where it is the prime obligation for police and a crime commissioner to provide people with proper guard and safety in accordance with law and order, it is also important for them to keep a regular check on policing and its manner in such relevant police areas as well as the nation as whole.

  1. ibid
  2. ibid

Bean, P. 1981. Punishment: A Philosophical and Criminological Inquiry. Oxford, England: Martin Robertson., The purpose of criminal punishment,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021., Justifying punishment in the community,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021., The purpose of Criminal Punishment, accessed on 23rd March, 2021., biological theories of crime,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021., Italian School of Criminology,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021., Rohit Bura, What are the biological theories of crime?,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021.

Criminal-justice.iresearchnet,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021., Vibhana Anand, Differential Association Theory,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021., Criminology: Intellectual History,, accessed on 23rd March, 2021., 27 June 2018, Role of Police and Crime Commissioners,, accessed on 22nd March, 2021.

Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales: Guidance for candidates and agents" (PDF). The Electoral Commission. 2016.accessed on 22nd March, 2021,, accessed on 22nd March, 2021.

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