Philosophy

Purposes of Criminal Laws

While some might argue the ethics of the latter described measures, these three features effectively, albeit not perfectly, eliminate a large amount of crime and provide society with order. Criminal law protects public order by criminalizing behaviors that are contrary to social norms, values, and/or customs. Public order crimes, therefore, are considered as harmful to the public and society as a whole. Such crimes include prostitution, paraphilia or strange sexual behavior, pornography, and other drug and alcohol related behaviors (Rooney Gibbons 1996). Some argue such crimes should be legalized and controlled rather than criminalized because they are essentially victimless (Rooney Gibbons 1996). However, it is important to release that the victims of the latter crimes are mostly indirect. For example, a family member plagued by drug use, in turn, not only destroys his/her own life, but also may create domestic violence or poverty. In addition, paraphilias, or strange sexual behaviors, such as pedophilia may lead to the abuse, molestation, or murder of children. Therefore, it remains wise to punish public order crimes in order to maintain an orderly society and protect inadvertent victims. Utilitarian philosophers Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham founded the Classical school of thought during the Enlightenment period of the 18th Century (Shavell 1985). According to the two philosophers, the criminal and the noncriminal are the same- there is no psychological illness involved in crime committing. Instead, crime is a component of free will and is a rational calculation of pleasure over pain. In other words, if committing a crime brings the criminal pleasure than the individual will commit the crime. The individual chooses crime as a means of bringing pleasure (Shavell 1985). Following these definitions of crime and criminals, the best way to prevent crime is through deterrence. Society should make the consequences of committing a crime more painful than the pleasure obtained by committing the crime. To make the criminal afraid of punishments, the law needed to clearly identify and define all consequences of crime. In addition, the punishment must be proportional to the crime such that it is not so harsh that it is unjust but that it is harsh enough that it will deter. Finally, Beccaria and Bentham argued that punishments must be quick. In other words, the consequences of a crime should be applied as quickly as possible after the crime was committed (Shavell 1985). Several components of Beccaria and Bentham’s philosophy, such as the right to a speedy trial and the eradication of cruel and unusual punishment are now apart of the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights (Shavell 1985). The concept of deterrence continues into modern times and remains the backbone of criminal law. Punishment is one of the main forms of deterrence, but also serves as a way to shield society from the criminal and to rehabilitate the criminal. The modern prison began in the 1970s and was referred to as a correctional institution (Haney and Zimbardo 1998). On one hand, the undesirable environment of prison deters a person from committing a criminal act, but the prison also serves as a place for criminals to be rehabilitated in order to live successfully in society. It is no secret that prison deprives criminals of many desires and needs. There are several forms of deprivations that an inmate experiences. One of the most importance forms of deprivat

Back To Top