Most aspects of criminal punishments often form the core of intense debates. People tend to question the righteousness and fairness of criminal punishments. Disagreements have been encountered with regards to the purposes of sentencing. Various beliefs are associated with purposes of criminal sentencing, for instance, some people believe in handling criminal sentence to convicted criminals as a form of punishment. However, others believe that criminal punishments should be utilized in making societies safe (Zedner, 2004). Sentencing philosophy is used in justifying criminal punishments, and most of the theories surrounding punishments, root from the philosophy. The philosophy behind sentencing is built on two theories, retributive and utilitarian theories. These theories, in turn, have major principles, for instance retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, restorative and rehabilitation justices. The theories that use punishment to prevent future crimes or deterrence are utilitarian, while those that refer or focus on past actions of a criminal are retributivist (Zedner, 2004).
The morality of criminal punishment can be explained by the various principles and theories. For instance, the deterrence principle shows why people should be deterred from crime, as a concern for the possible consequences of their actions. In this case, the vital point of punishment is to prevent further instances of offenses (Johnson, 2011). On the other hand, retribution theorists believe that there is justification for every punishment. This is because it incorporates accountability and responsibility in an offender for actions that harm the society, hence deserved. Here, punishments given must always be directly proportionate to the crime committed. The retribution principle argues that offenders ought to pay their debts o the offended society. Therefore, their punishment is an expressive way of communicating how the society is censuring the criminal. Rehabilitation principle has a caring base, where the offender is shown some concern with regards to his criminal and social backgrounds. Maybe the offender needs some help to get through his criminal act; rehabilitation is the most useful theory here. The introduction of facilities like treatment centers, detention centers, probation, parole, bail, indeterminate sentences have enhanced the shift to rehabilitative justice (Johnson, 2011). Incapacitation involves placing criminals in custody for long times with an idea of protecting the society from them. It is characterized by strict laws. This also means that offenders undergoing this punishment are judged and punished on the basis of offenses they might commit in future. This raises questions, since it is not ethical to punish people for uncommitted crimes. Restorative principle incorporates the public in contributing solutions to criminal acts (Johnson, 2011). It aims at restoring the offenders, where the society acts in support of criminals to turn over new leaves.
Criminal punishments have both moral and legal justifications. Therefore, in defining the prime purpose of punishments, arguments can vary depending on the basis one is arguing from. It is important to note that, although the law may decide to inflict punishment on an offender, the moral justification of the society must also be established. All these philosophical justifications of punishments have both pros and cons. the most essential thing is that they all seek to deal with crime in societies as well as the consequences. Therefore, for whatever purpose a criminal punishment is intended, the ultimate goal is often to deal with consequences of crime.