So, I'm taking a law class at my current high school, and we get homework everyday, in which we have to explore some of the current issues facing law and society today. As such, this gives me a chance to explore and ponder my response to some of the issues we face today, in the form of a law homework response. One of the questions we got as an assignment one day was this: What punishment do you think accomplished it's goal? Why? The following is my response to this question, and this marks the beginning of new segment in this blog, titled Law and Society, in which I will periodically share my responses to certain homework questions I received in my law class. Enjoy, and I hope all you have a Happy Holidays.
Question: What punishment do you think accomplished it's goal? Why?
Response: The goal of punishments is to achieve a perfect society in which rules and laws are respected, under the threat of severe punishment for those who break them, in order to deter people from committing crimes. If were to look at the question from that perspective, then all punishments, have simply put, utterly failed to reach that goal. If punishments really did achieve their goal, then there would be no crimes, no human being would ever be harmed, and there would be peace, love and equality (in all forms), all over, and we would be living in a utopia, or a prefect society. It can come close to achieving it, but we will never see it happen, because we, as humans, are imperfect. It is in our nature to skirt or break rules and laws to achieve some (and hopefully very few) of our goals.
However, if were to look at it from a different perspective, then punishments haven’t completely failed in the goal, and we could have a small glimmer of hope. From that perspective, then each type of punishment have widely varying rates of success. For example, some punishments, such as fines, deter most people from breaking laws because they are a nuisance to receive and shake off (think of traffic tickets), especially towards your wallet. Probation also is effective in most, but not in all cases, because it keeps the person in line while under the watch of a probation officer- if the person steps out of line, and if the offense is great enough, then the person will be given a more severe sentence, such as a hefty fine, a stricter set of probation guidelines, or some instances, even jail time.
Incarceration, on the other hand has a much more mixed track record. On one hand, the average citizen fears going to jail, and the threat of going to jail for most crimes is enough to deter most people from doing serious crimes. On the other hand, the U.S. has one of the highest incarceration and re-incarceration rates in the world, and the threat of jail is often insufficient enough to deter career criminals from committing major, and often violent crimes. Usually, only the threat of long and severe prison sentences (Life, life without parole, 20 to life, as such) serve as a determent to most people, and even then, some criminals continue committing crimes. We must also note that people are sometimes thrown in jail for (sometimes) ridiculously small reasons as well, and that has helped the prison population rate to explode to record levels. Some offenses, such as carrying very small amounts of marijuana or using very, very small amounts of controlled substances, are given mandatory (and often long) prison sentences, while in reality, it could be better suited to send that person to rehabilitation.
Lastly, there is the death penalty, usually used in extreme and violent cases (such as a violent robbery, murder, or an extremely violent sexual assault) and as such, in most states, it’s use is severely restricted, while in others, restrictions are more relaxed (for an extreme example, see Texas). Still, other states prohibit the use of the death penalty, calling it ‘barbaric’ and ‘unjust.’ New York State has prohibited the death penalty as a form of punishment. Some claim that this punishment, if used effectively, will deter people from committing serious and violent crimes under the threat of death, while others say that it is an ineffective and costly way to punish, stating that is applied unequally, and that there will always exist a small chance of error for executing a person for the wrong crime (it has happened), and that no life, no mater how despised, should be taken away, even if they are violent criminals. Still others point to it as cruel and unusual punishment, and point out that in societies where the death penalty is (or was) used commonly, the people there are disenchanted, oppressed, or both, and in most cases, the extreme use of it has led to rebellion.
In short, no punishment has ever completely reached it’s goal- but they haven’t completely failed either. Each have widely varying degrees of success, but we can safely say that all are on the varying levels in terms of progress. Some punishments are more widely used and more effective, while others are less used, and then others are rarely used but sometimes effective or ineffective. Yet, they have all made some progress in coming closer to achieving the goal of a well-regulated and a perfect society, but we still have a long way to go.
Law and Society: This the first in a series of articles in which we explore the effects of law on society, and the effects of society on the law.