In society, punishment is the practice of imposing something unpleasant on a wrongdoer. Most often, criminals are punished by fines or prison. Children are also punished by their parents, guardians, or teachers.
Michel Foucault describes in detail the evolution of punishment from hanging, drawing and quartering of medieval times to the modern systems of fines and prisons. He sees a trend in criminal punishment from vengeance by the King to a more practical, utilitarian concern for deterrence and rehabilitation.
A particularly harsh punishment is called draconian, after Draco, the lawgiver of Athens.
In operant conditioning, punishment is the presentation of a stimulus contingent on a response which results in a decrease in response strength (as evidenced by a decrease in the frequency of response). The effectiveness of punishment in suppressing the response depends on many factors, including the intensity of the stimulus and the consistency with which the stimulus is presented when the response occurs. In parenting, additional factors that increase the effectiveness of punishment include a verbal explanation of the reason for the punishment and a good relationship between the parent and the child. Punishment can be divided into two types: Positive punishment is the application of an aversive stimulus. Negative punishment is the removal of a desired condition.
Common judicial punishments for criminals:
Common punishments for children by their parents, guardians or teachers:
Possible reasons for punishment
See also: Criminal justice
Deterrence means dissuading someone from future wrongdoing, by making the punishment severe enough that the benefit gained from the offense is outweighed by the cost (and probability) of the punishment.
Deterrence is a very common reason given for why someone should be punished. However, using punishment as a deterent has the fundemental flaw that human nature tends ignore the possibility of punishment until they are caught.
Some punishment includes work to reform and rehabilitate the wrongdoer so that they will not commit the offense again. This is different from deterrence, in that the goal here is to change the offender's attitude to what they have done, and make them come to accept that their behaviour was wrong.
In the prison system, imprisonment has the effect of confining the prisoner, physically preventing him from committing crimes against those outside. The most dangerous criminals may be sentenced to life imprisonment for this reason.
The death penalty also may be invoked for this reason.
For minor offences, punishment may take the form of the offender "righting the wrong"; for example, a vandal might be made to clean up the mess he has made.
In more serious cases, punishment in the form of fines and compensation payments may also be considered a sort of "restoration".
Retribution is the practice of "getting even" with a wrongdoer - the suffering of the wrongdoer is seen as good in itself, even if it has no other benefits. One reason for societies to include this judicial element, is to diminish the perceived need for street justice, blood revenge, and vigilantism.
Last updated: 10-12-2005 19:06:08