Welcome to MedLibrary.org. For best results, we recommend beginning with the navigation links at the top of the page, which can guide you through our collection of over 14,000 medication labels and package inserts. For additional information on other topics which are not covered by our database of medications, just enter your topic in the search box below:
Punishment (also known as discipline or penalty) is the authoritative imposition of something undesirable or unpleasant on, or the removal of something desirable or pleasant from, a person, animal, organization or entity in response to behavior deemed unacceptable by an individual, group or other entity. The authority may be either a group or a single person, and punishment may be carried out formally under a system of law or informally in other kinds of social settings such as within a family. Negative consequences that are not authorized or that are administered without a breach of rules are not considered to be punishment as defined here. The study and practice of the punishment of crimes, particularly as it applies to imprisonment, is called penology, or, often in modern texts, corrections; in this context, the punishment process is euphemistically called "correctional process". Research into punishment often includes similar research into prevention.
Fundamental justifications for punishment include: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitations such as isolation in order to prevent the wrongdoer's having contact with potential victims. Of the four justifications, only retribution is part of the definition of punishment and none of the other justifications is a guaranteed outcome.
If only some of the conditions included in the definition of punishment are present, descriptions other than "punishment" may be considered more accurate. Inflicting something negative, or unpleasant, on a person or animal, without authority is considered either spite or revenge rather than punishment. In addition, the word "punishment" is used as a metaphor, as when a boxer experiences "punishment" during a fight. In other situations breaking the rules may be rewarded, and is therefore without negative consequences, and so cannot be considered punishment. Finally the condition of breaking (or breaching) the rules must be satisfied to be considered punishment.
Punishments differ in the degree of severity of their unpleasantness, and may include sanctions such as reprimands, deprivations of privileges or liberty, fines, incarcerations, ostracism, the infliction of pain, amputation, and the death penalty. Corporal punishment refers to punishments in which pain is intended to be inflicted upon the transgressor. Punishments may be judged as fair or unfair in terms of their degree of reciprocity and proportionality. Punishment can be an integral part of socialization, and punishing unwanted behaviour is often part of a system of pedagogy or behavioral modification which also includes rewards.
- it be imposed by an authority,
- it involve some loss to the supposed offender,
- it be in response to an offence, and
- the person (or animal) upon whom the loss is imposed be deemed at least somewhat responsible for the offence.
Introduced by B.F. Skinner, punishment has a more restrictive and technical definition. Along with reinforcement it belongs under the Operant Conditioning category. Operant Conditioning refers to learning with either punishment or reinforcement. It is also referred to as response-stimulus conditioning. In psychology, punishment is the reduction of a behavior via application of an adverse stimulus ("positive punishment") or removal of a pleasant stimulus ("negative punishment"). Extra chores or spanking are examples of positive punishment, while making an offending student lose recess or play privileges are examples of negative punishment. The definition requires that punishment is only determined after the fact by the reduction in behavior; if the offending behavior of the subject does not decrease then it is not considered punishment. There is some conflation of punishment and aversives, though an aversive that does not decrease behavior is not considered punishment in psychology.
Punishment is sometimes called retaliatory or moralistic aggression; it has been observed in all species of social animals, leading evolutionary biologists to conclude that it is an evolutionarily stable strategy, selected because it favors cooperative behavior.
Scope of application
Punishments are applied for various purposes, most generally, to encourage and enforce proper behavior as defined by society or family. Criminals are punished judicially, by fines, corporal punishment or custodial sentences such as prison; detainees risk further punishments for breaches of internal rules. Children, pupils and other trainees may be punished by their educators or instructors (mainly parents, guardians, or teachers, tutors and coaches) — see Child discipline.
Slaves, domestic and other servants used to be punishable by their masters. Employees can still be subject to a contractual form of fine or demotion. Most hierarchical organizations, such as military and police forces, or even churches, still apply quite rigid internal discipline, even with a judicial system of their own (court martial, canonical courts).
Punishment may also be applied on moral, especially religious, grounds, as in penance (which is voluntary) or imposed in a theocracy with a religious police (as in a strict Islamic state like Iran or under the Taliban) or (though not a true theocracy) by Inquisition.
History and rationale
Seriousness of a crime; Punishment fits the crime
A principle often mentioned with respect to the degree of punishment to be meted out is that the punishment should match the crime. One standard for measurement is the degree to which a crime affects others or society. Measurements of the degree of seriousness of a crime have been developed. A felony is generally considered to be a crime of "high seriousness", while a misdemeanor is not.
Possible reasons for punishment
There are many possible reasons that might be given to justify or explain why someone ought to be punished; here follows a broad outline of typical, possibly conflicting, justifications.
One reason given to justify punishment is that it is a measure to prevent people from committing an offence - deterring previous offenders from re-offending, and preventing those who may be contemplating an offence they have not committed from actually committing it. This punishment is intended to be sufficient that people would choose not to commit the crime rather than experience the punishment. The aim is to deter everyone in the community from committing offences.
Some punishment includes work to reform and rehabilitate the wrongdoer so that they will not commit the offence again. This is distinguished from deterrence, in that the goal here is to change the offender's attitude to what they have done, and make them come to see that their behavior was wrong.
Incapacitation and societal protection
Incapacitation as a justification of punishment refers to the offender’s ability to commit further offences being removed. Imprisonment separates offenders from the community, removing or reducing their ability to carry out certain crimes. The death penalty does this in a permanent (and irrevocable) way. In some societies, people who stole have been punished by having their hands amputated.
Criminal activities typically give a benefit to the offender and a loss to the victim. Punishment has been justified as a measure of retributive justice, in which the goal is to try to rebalance any unjust advantage gained by ensuring that the offender also suffers a loss. Sometimes viewed as a way of "getting even" with a wrongdoer — the suffering of the wrongdoer is seen as a desired goal in itself, even if it has no restorative benefits for the victim. One reason societies have administered punishments is to diminish the perceived need for retaliatory "street justice", blood feud and vigilantism.
Education and denunciation
Punishment can be explained by positive prevention theory to use the criminal justice system to teach people what are the social norms for what is correct, and acts as a reinforcement.
Punishment can serve as a means for society to publicly express denunciation of an action as being criminal. Besides educating people regarding what is not acceptable behavior, it serves the dual function of preventing vigilante justice by acknowledging public anger, while concurrently deterring future criminal activity by stigmatizing the offender. This is sometimes called the "Expressive Theory" of denunciation. The pillory was a method for carrying out public denunciation.
- Hugo, Adam Bedau (February 19, 2010). "Punishment, Crime and the State". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2010-08-04. "The search for a precise definition of punishment that exercised some philosophers (for discussion and references see Scheid 1980) is likely to prove futile: but we can say that legal punishment involves the imposition of something that is intended to be burdensome or painful, on a supposed offender for a supposed crime, by a person or body who claims the authority to do so."
- McAnany, Patrick D. (August 2010). "Punishment". Online. Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-08-04. "Punishment describes the imposition by some authority of a deprivation — usually painful — on a person who has violated a law, rule, or other norm. When the violation is of the criminal law of society there is a formal process of accusation and proof followed by imposition of a sentence by a designated official, usually a judge. Informally, any organized group — most typically the family, in rearing children — may punish perceived wrongdoers."
- Hugo, Adam Bedau (February 19, 2010). "Theory of Punishment". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2010-08-04. "Punishment under law... is the authorized imposition of deprivations — of freedom or privacy or other goods to which the person otherwise has a right, or the imposition of special burdens — because the person has been found guilty of some criminal violation, typically (though not invariably) involving harm to the innocent. (The classical formulation, conspicuous in Hobbes, for example, defines punishment by reference to imposing pain rather than to deprivations.) This definition, although imperfect because of its brevity, does allow us to bring out several essential points."
- Peters, Richard Stanley (1966). Ethics and Education. pp. 267–268. JSTOR 3120772. "Punishment... involves the intentional infliction of pain or of something unpleasant on someone who has committed a breach of rules... by someone who is in authority, who has a right to act in this way. Otherwise, it would be impossible to distinguish 'punishment' from 'revenge'. People in authority can, of course, inflict pain on people at whim. But this would be called 'spite' unless it were inflicted as a consequence of a breach of rules on the part of the sufferer. Similarly a person in authority might give a person £5 as a consequence of his breaking a rule. But unless this were regarded as painful or at least unpleasant for the recipient it could not be counted as a case of 'punishment'. In other words at least three criteria of (i) intentional infliction of pain (ii) by someone in authority (iii) on a person as a consequence of a breach of rules on his part, must be satisfied if we are to call something a case of 'punishment'. There are, as is usual in such cases, examples that can be produced which do not satisfy all criteria. For instance there is a colloquialism which is used about boxers taking a lot of punishment from their opponents, in which only the first condition is present. But this is a metaphorical use which is peripheral to the central use of the term.
In so far as the different 'theories' of punishment are answers to questions about the meaning of 'punishment', only the retributive theory is a possible one. There is no conceptual connection between 'punishment' and notions like those of 'deterrence', 'prevention' and 'reform'. For people can be punished without being prevented from repeating the offence, and without being made any better. It is also a further question whether they themselves or anyone else is deterred from committing the offence by punishment. But 'punishment' must involve 'retribution', for 'retribution' implies doing something to someone in return for what he has done.... Punishment, therefore, must be retributive—by definition."
- Kleining, John (October 1972). "R.S. Peters on Punishment". British Journal of Educational Studies 20 (3): 259–269. doi:10.1080/00071005.1972.9973352. JSTOR 3120772. "Unpleasantness inflicted without authority is revenge, and if whimsical, is spite.... There is no conceptual connection between punishment, or deterrence, or reform, for people can be punished without being prevented from repeating the offence, and without being made better. And it is also a further question whether they themselves, or anyone else is deterred from committing the offence by punishment."
- Mary Stohr; Anthony Walsh; Craig Hemmens (2008). Corrections: A Text/Reader. Sage. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-4129-3773-3 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- McAnany, Patrick D. (August 2010). "Justification for punishment (Punishment)". Online. Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2010-09-16. "Because punishment is both painful and guilt producing, its application calls for a justification. In Western culture, four basic justifications have been given: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation. The history of formal punitive systems is one of a gradual transition from familial and tribal authority to the authority of organized society. Although parents today retain much basic authority to discipline their children, physical beatings and other severe deprivations—once widely tolerated—may now be called child abuse and result in criminal charges"
- Diana Kendall (2009). Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials (7th revised ed.). Cengage Learning. ISBN 0-495-59862-3 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Mary Stohr; Anthony Walsh; Craig Hemmens (2008). Corrections: A Text/Reader. Sage. p. 3. ISBN 978-1-4129-3773-3 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].
- Doing Justice - The Choice of Punishments, A VONHIRSCH, 1976, p.220
- Criminology, Larry J. Siegel
- An Economic Analysis of the Criminal Law as Preference-Shaping Policy, Duke Law Journal, Feb 1990, Vol. 1, Kenneth Dau-Schmidt
- Offense Seriousness Scaling: An Alternative to Scenario Methods Journal of Quantitative Criminology, Volume 9, Number 3, 309-322, doi:10.1007/BF01064464, James P. Lynch and Mona J. E. Danner
- "restitution". La-articles.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-27.
- "Theory, Sources, and Limitations of Criminal Law". Retrieved 2011-09-26.
- "Theories Of Punishment". Free Legal Encyclopedia. Retrieved 2011-09-26. "Theories of punishment can be divided into two general philosophies: utilitarian and retributive."
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Punishment
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy - Legal Punishment
- Etymology Online
- Zaibert, Leo (2006). Punishment and retribution. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate. ISBN 0-7546-2389-0 [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK].