The two broadest types of rationales for punishment are retributive and utilitarian. Retributive rationale aims at punishing the criminal for the crime committed against the victim. This approach seems a little dubious since it calls for ‘an-eye-for-an-eye’ attitude towards the criminal.
Utilitarian perspective calls for solutions that hurt the smallest number of people or benefit the greatest number. Thus, the punishment according to the utilitarian perspective should be modelled in such a way as to benefit the victim and others mostly and to reduce crime rate at present and in the future. For instance, if the criminal is put in prison, he or she will not be able to commit crimes for the time spent in captivity.
Deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation are the most popular utilitarian rationales for penalties imposed upon criminals. Deterrence means that punishment is imposed upon the criminal in order to discourage this person and others seeing this example from perpetrating crimes in the future. Incapacitation means depriving criminal of the ability to commit offences as through capital punishment or incarceration. Rehabilitation aims at reforming the criminal, empowering the person to return to normal social life.
2. Support three-strike laws through a retributive rationale and then through a utilitarian rationale.
The retributive rationale, in my view, does not work very well for three-strike laws that allow life sentences for repeat offenders. If the person committing a repeat crime has already done time for this crime, there is no reason to impose an enhanced punishment for the new offence.
Three-strike legislation was caused by “the problem of a significant percentage of crimes committed by people who previously have committed crimes” (Harary 2003). The laws aim to incapacitate these criminals by taking them off the street and to deter other repeat offences through the threat of the life sentence. Rehabilitation is not the reason since criminals are not supposed to get back to society.
Harary, C.J. (2003, April 4). Incarceration as a Modality of Punishment. Jewish Law. Retrieved on October 7, 2005 from http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/ch_incarceration.html.
Hoff, S.B. (n.d.). Review of: Pojman, L. & Reiman, S. (1998). The Death Penalty: For And Against. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 1998. Law and Politics Book Review, 9(9), 384-386.