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About this book

Why do we punish? Is it because only punishment can achieve justice for victims and 'right the wrong' of a crime? Or is it justified because it reduces crime, by deterring potential offenders, offering rehabilitative treatment to others and incapacitating the most dangerous? The complex answers to this enduring question vary across time and place, and are directly linked to people's personal, cultural, social, religious and ethical commitments and even their sense of identity.

This unique introduction to the philosophy of punishment provides a systematic analysis of the themes of retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation and restorative justice. Integrating philosophical, sociological, political and ethical perspectives, it provides a thorough and wide-ranging discussion of the purposes, meanings and justifications of punishment for crime and the extent to which punishment does, could or should live up to what it claims to achieve.

Why Punish? challenges criminology and criminal justice students as well as policy makers, judges, magistrates and criminal justice practitioners to think more critically about the role of punishment and the moral principles that underpin it. Bridging abstract theory with the realities of practice, Rob Canton asks what better punishment would look like and how it can be achieved.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction

Abstract
This book is an introduction to the philosophy of punishment. It is written mainly for students of criminology, criminal justice studies and other social science disciplines, including psychology and sociology. At the same time, the aspiration is that the text will also be of interest and value to students of philosophy – especially moral philosophy – who, as I shall try to show, may find punishment to be a topic of distinctive interest. If there is a guiding idea in this book, it is the belief that the insights of philosophy and of the social sciences must be brought together to gain a rounded and critical understanding of punishment. It will be argued that the social sciences must attend to the philosophical aspects of punishment (especially, though not only, the arguments and perceptions of moral philosophy), while philosophers need a fuller understanding of the nature of punishment – what punishment is, means and represents – in order to undertake an ethical analysis and appraisal. David Garland has pointed to the limitations of moral philosophy here.
Rob Canton

Chapter 2. The Origins and Meanings of Punishment

Abstract
The Introduction considered some of the problems involved in defining the word ‘punishment’ and the different ways in which the question why punish? may be taken. This chapter explores the nature and meanings of punishment – what it does, what it ‘says’ and means, as well as some of the forms that punishment takes. It is an initial contribution to an attempt to meet Garland’s challenge to acquire a richer ‘appreciation of the nature of punishment, of its character as a social institution, and of its role in social life’ (1990: 9) before inquiring into its moral justifications in later chapters. The focus of this book is on punishment by the state – punishment for crimes – but one assumption throughout this chapter is that our views about this are likely to be affected by our attitudes towards other kinds of wrongs and punishments, as well as our opinions about personal responsibility. In the broadest sense of 'punishment' – as a disapproving response to wrongdoing – everyone has an experience of being punished, as children by parents, carers and teachers, for instance; for that matter, almost everyone has in one way or another been a punisher themselves. It will be suggested that these experiences, almost always charged with emotional significance, exert a continuing influence on conceptions of justice and on the attitudes people take towards the punishment of criminal offenders.
Rob Canton

Chapter 3. The Purposes and Effects of Punishment

Abstract
Chapter 2 addressed why punish? in the first of the ways in which this question could be understood. In pursuing the sociological inquiry to investigate the social, psychological and cultural origins of and influences on punishment, that chapter considered some of the ways in which punishment matters to everybody – and not only in what punishment ‘does’, but also through what it ‘says’ or represents. This chapter will explore another kind of answer to the question why punish? by examining the purposes of punishment – the political inquiry anticipated in the Introduction. This is a distinct area of inquiry: rather than the origins or causes of punishment, it investigates penal policy and the considered practices of people working in the criminal justice system in their deliberate attempts to deploy punishment for social and political purposes. This chapter will also try to prompt some reflections (to be developed further in Chapter 9) about the effects of punishment, whether or not such consequences are the upshot of anyone’s deliberate intentions. Reflection on these topics is an indispensable preliminary to the ethical inquiry which will be the principal concern of the following chapters. Accounts of punishment that try to find its justification in its potential to reduce crimes by one means or another (discussed in Chapters 5–7) would be seriously, perhaps fatally, undermined if it were to turn out that punishment makes a decidedly limited contribution to that endeavour and even, in some cases, tends to increase crime.
Rob Canton

Chapter 4. Retribution

Abstract
Having considered some of the characteristics of punishment, its significance and meanings and the purposes that are set for it, discussion turns next to its moral justification – the ethical inquiry anticipated in the Introduction. The need for moral justification arises because punishment typically involves deliberately inflicting pains or hardships, deprivations or restrictions – impositions which would in other circumstances be considered unjustifiable and from which the state usually protects people rather than administering them intentionally. How might this be justified? This chapter discusses retribution. In the writings about punishment, retribution (or retributivism – the philosophy that holds that retribution is the way in which punishment is to be justified) has come to refer to a family of ideas that, while differing in several ways (Cottingham 1979; Walker 1999b), share the central belief that, if punishment is to be justified at all, it must be because offenders are being punished for what they have done and because they deserve it. In particular, this approach is distinguished from other accounts, to be considered in the following chapters, that look for a justification in the effects or consequences of punishment – especially reductions in crime. For retributivists, beneficial consequences are no doubt welcome, but it is not on these grounds that punishment is to be justified.
Rob Canton

Chapter 5. Deterrence

Abstract
Chapter 4 considered retribution, the idea that the justification of punishment rests on the intrinsic justice of imposing a proportionate punishment for a crime. In the next three chapters, attention turns to the aspiration that punishment might reduce offending and thus make for a safer and more peaceful society: it is on this that its justification might be said to rest. While retributivists urge the inherent rightness of administering deserved punishment, to others the value of repaying the harms of crime with the hardship and imposition of punishment is less apparent. By contrast, the project of trying to reduce the harms of further offending seems well worth the attempt. How might punishment contribute to that endeavour?. In examining any ‘reductive’ approach to punishment, both effectiveness and justification must be considered. While it is not always true to say that retribution is solely ‘backward-looking’, in most versions retribution does not set out to influence future conduct directly, whereas reductive strategies do precisely set this as an objective.
Rob Canton

Chapter 6. Rehabilitation and Desistance

Abstract
The aspiration that punishment should attempt to improve people so that they do not offend in future is common in many parts of the world. Many countries describe their penal system as ‘corrections’ and in recent years the UK has proclaimed a ‘rehabilitation revolution’ or a ‘transformation’ that sets rehabilitation at the centre of penal policy (Ministry of Justice 2014). This is the subject of this chapter. It will be seen that the definition of rehabilitation is contested and that it can have various meanings and connotations. These different ways of understanding rehabilitation are associated with varying assumptions ‘about the nature, characteristics and entitlements of people who commit offences’ (Raynor and Robinson 2009: 16), as well as the reasons behind their offending and ideas about how it may be influenced in future.
Rob Canton

Chapter 7. Incapacitation and Risk

Abstract
Among Bentham’s mechanisms to prevent crimes (see Chapter 3) is removing ‘the physical power of offending … [so that] the individual can no more commit the offence’ (Bentham 1843, quoted in von Hirsch, Ashworth and Roberts 2009: 53). This is the subject of this chapter. It is to be noted that Bentham put this mechanism first in his list, and many people may reasonably feel that incapacitation (as we shall call this removing of ‘the physical power of offending’) has a certainty that other mechanisms lack. The efficacy of crime prevention achieved by locking someone up (the most familiar mode of incapacitation) does not depend on uncertain attempts to change the thinking of the individual or others and is accordingly not vulnerable to some of the critiques levelled in earlier chapters against deterrence (Chapter 5) or rehabilitation (Chapter 6). With this in mind, it is sometimes said that at least people cannot commit crimes while they are in prison. But one immediate qualification of this claim was raised in the Introduction.
Rob Canton

Chapter 8. Restorative Justice

Abstract
We have been considering the origins and meanings of punishment and the purposes that may be set for it. Ethical justifications have also been discussed – a separate inquiry, as the Introduction explained, for to set a purpose does not in itself ensure that either the aim or the means by which it is pursued are morally acceptable. We have seen that the most familiar accounts are that punishment (only or best) can vindicate the harm done to victims and ‘right the wrong’ of an offence; that punishment may make a society safer by reducing the number of crimes in one way or another. The conventional accounts, though, however persuasive they may be in their own terms, may foreclose other and perhaps more constructive ways of responding to wrongdoing. Explanations and justifications that rest on punishment’s potential to reduce crime are (substantially or entirely) offender-centred, while retribution starts and usually finishes with a conception of justice that holds that justice is fully satisfied once the offender has received what is deserved – usually some amount of hard treatment.
Rob Canton

Chapter 9. The Limits and Perils of Punishment

Abstract
One of the most familiar arguments put forward to justify punishment involves the claim that it tends to reduce crime – to make us safer. Earlier chapters have reviewed the several mechanisms by which it is believed this might be brought about. The idea of deterrence has sometimes been thought to be of special importance here because the threat of punishment, unlike rehabilitation and incapacitation, is supposed to have its effect on everyone – not just the relatively few people who are convicted and punished. But throughout the discussion, a sceptical position has been taken: perhaps punishment or its threats tends to reduce crime to a much lesser extent than is often supposed. In particular, there are reasons to doubt that deterrence is as effective as its proponents claim. It has been argued that reliance on fear of punishment to restrain criminal behaviour is unwise, likely to lead to poor policy decisions and to injustices in particular cases through disproportionate punishment (Chapter 5). Even if punishment did have the effects that deterrence theorists claim for it, it has other effects besides that may undermine its potential to reduce offending.
Rob Canton

Chapter 10. Rethinking Punishment

Abstract
The definition of philosophy in the Introduction, borrowed from Michael Sandel, holds out the promise that critical reflection ‘always intimates the possibility that things could be other than they are. And better’ (Edmonds and Warburton 2010: xxi). To make punishment better, however, involves two inquiries: first, an ethical evaluation to try to determine what would constitute improvement – what ‘better punishment’ would be like; second, the attempt to gain a fuller appreciation of the feasibility of change, of the obstacles and opportunities. Not all accounts of the philosophy of punishment go very far with the first project. Arguing for particular justifications, they usually do little more than set some formal criteria: punishment should be no more (and ordinarily no less) than what is deserved; or that it should communicate an appropriate censure; or that punishment should be just enough to deter (even though no one knows what that is). Almost all writers insist that, in finding (or rejecting) justifications for punishment, they do not pretend to have justified any current practices, but they do not often go on to examine the forms and levels of punishment that might constitute an improvement.
Rob Canton
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