Which the criminal justice system is underpinned by prevention and retribution

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The criminal justice system is said by the Home Office to be a system which “works with individuals and communities to build a safe, just and tolerant society enhancing opportunities for all and in which rights and responsibilities go hand in hand, and the protection and security of the public are maintained and enhanced. ” It comprises a series of stages and decisions, from the initial investigation of crime to the post-sentence decisions, to help catch and punish criminals. The criminal justice systems aim was not always to punish criminals as it is now.

In the 18th century Beccaria questioned the brutal system of punishment that was in place, this was primarily torture and execution. The poor were largely victims of this punishment which was controlled by the rich, powerful landowners (Feudal Justice System). He called for the focus to be taken off the individual and placed on the criminal act itself in order to treat everyone indiscriminately. Newburn (2007:33) said “As with every other area of criminal justice, the courts system underwent radical overhaul from the late 18th century onward.

Many different approaches were tried in the time following this change in the late 18th century to mid 19th century. However prevention and retribution were brought back to be the main approach of the criminal justice system in the 1980’s in answer to the failings of the reform theory in the decades before. In the 18th century the classical school of criminology developed by Beccaria purposed the reform of the penal system. It suggested that crime be defined by the legal code and that crimes were committed out of free-will and rational choice.

The classical theory then decided that the way to change this behaviour was to introduce a fear of punishment as a deterrent and that the punishment fits the crime. This mirrored the utilitarian perspective. This was a future-thinking perspective in that it punishes the criminal accordingly in the present to prevent crimes in the future. Bentham paralleled Beccaria’s ideas and claimed that all punishment is pain and should therefore be avoided. (Ashworth: 2005) This was unless the punishment could have more benefits that would outweigh the pain inflicted on the offender. Prevention of crime comes in 3 stages.

The first is primary which is neighbourhood watch etc. Then secondary which is deterrence, target hardening etc and the third is tertiary, this includes incapacitation. These all fall into the 2 models of crime prevention which are the social model and the situational model. The social model reduces the motivation to offend or re-offend whereas the situational model reduces the opportunities for crime to occur. The media has produced many stories with regard to the situational model.

For example the BBC news ran a story in Feb 04 on the fitting of CCTV’s in people’s homes to help cut crime. www. bbc. co. uk) These measures are used to deter people from committing crimes. There are two different kinds of deterrence in place today, general and specific deterrence. General deterrence functions by making an example of an offender by giving them a harsh punishment compared to the crime committed; this is done to deter the rest of the public from criminal activity. A modern day example of this general deterrence is that of Thomas Dolan and Thomas Whittaker, both men were jailed in Sept 07 for 15 months for spraying graffiti on trains and railway stops.

A British transport police official commented on the sentence and said that the sentence should serve as a deterrent to potential offenders. (www. bbc. co. uk). The other type of deterrent, specific deterrence, is when the individual is punished to dissuade them from re-offending in the future. This could include imprisonment, community service orders, fines or attendance centres. However critics point to the high recidivism rates of people who are sentenced to imprisonment to highlight that specific deterrence does not work to deter the individual from crime.

Incapacitation as a deterrent of crime was one of the most popular methods used to punish offenders. It was used so much because it was seem by the public to be a direct answer to the threat of offenders, it removes criminals off the streets and therefore the public are protected. Examples of this are in the media everyday, with the families of victims being happy that the offender was sentenced to prison. One such example of this was on March 31st 08. Thomas Towle was sentenced to over 7 years in jail for killing 6 children by dangerous driving.

The families of the victims commented to the papers that they were glad he had been put in jail and that justice had prevailed. (www. news. com) Another reason it is used as preventative measure is that if the offender is locked up it makes it very unlikely that they can commit any more crimes. However the problem with incapacitation is that it is very expense and jails are now experiencing extreme overcrowding. For these reasons the criminal justice system is now looking for other methods of punishment for offenders. Rehabilitation is another crime prevention measure.

Its main aim is to help the offender through correctional treatments, such as drug and alcohol treatment programmes. These are seen to help prevent crime because if people are committing crimes to fund drug or alcohol problems treating the problems can help stop the crime. Anger management classes are also included in this category. The supermodel Naomi Campbell, had a much publicised trial were she was sentenced to anger management classes after she threw a diamond encrusted mobile phone at her maid in 2006. (www. engadget. com).

First time offenders or people who have committed non-violent crimes are more likely to receive rehabilitative measures as they are seen to be more likely to be rehabilitated than repeat offenders or violent offenders. The retributive perspective is a different approach to crime control than the utilitarian perspective. Its main focus is not on the prevention of crime but on the detention and sanctioning of criminal acts. Its core task is identifying and removing individuals from circulation and guilt is also a vital point in this perspective.

The theory of ‘just deserts’ is a form of the retributive philosophy. ‘Just deserts’ believes the punishment should be proportional to the crime. The leading supporter of this theory Andrew Von Hirsch (1986) said “desert, is and integral part of everyday judgements of praise and blame. ” Custodial sentences are used in the perspective to combat crime and the offenders are to receive a sentence that is proportionate to their crime. This should take into account the seriousness and the dangerousness of the crime committed before sentence is passed. However there are many criticisms of the ‘just deserts’ theory.

Andrew Ashworth (2005:86) stated that “it is unfair to rest desert partly on the individual culpability when strong social disadvantages may be at the root of much offending. ” Critics also argue that it is very difficult to give sentences proportionate to the crimes because how can you determine what crimes deserve what sentence and disproportionate sentences do occur. One example of this disproportionate sentencing was seen in the Times newspaper in June 07. A man was sentenced to only 3. 5 years for the rape of a ten year old girl. Disproportionate sentences can also go the opposite way with small crimes getting harsh punishments, e. . the graffiti case mentioned above.

In conclusion, the criminal justice system is underpinned by prevention and retribution, however one is becoming more influential than the other. In previous years retribution has been the main focus of punishment but as the prison population has now hit an all time high of over 81,000 different methods of crime control has had to be introduced. Crime prevention is now the chief control measure of the criminal justice system with extra focus being put on the community to help prevent crimes rather than the police.

Although police have stepped up their appearance in the community, to re-establish peoples belief in them. There are more non-custodial sentences handed out now and additional measures to try and prevent crimes reaching the criminal justice process, such as asbo’s, curfews etc. People have now got more control over helping to prevent crime in their areas and the criminal justice system is now trying to find effective ways of dealing with offenders rather than incapacitation.

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