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  • What should be the point of criminal punishment?

What should be the point of criminal punishment?

This issue continues our collaboration with WVU's Campus Read, discussing issues raised in Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014, Random House). Professor Amy Cyphert, Director of WVU ASPIRE, and adjunct professor of law and philosophy, poses questions about the purpose of criminal punishment and who is supposed to benefit from such punishment. Please share your own ideas and questions in the blog below.  If you do not have a Disqus account, you can just post as "guest."  Please follow us on Facebook to stay up to date: https://www.facebook.com/wvuthequestion/
Amy Cyphert
Amy Cyphert, Director of WVU ASPIRE
What is the point of criminal punishment? What should be the point? The federal sentencing guidelines, which federal judges are to advise as they fashion sentences, urge judges to consider four purposes: retribution, deterrence, protection of the public, and rehabilitation. A sentence of death certainly serves the purpose of retribution, though arguably a lengthy sentence could serve that purpose as well. While the death penalty obviously deters the person who is to be executed from offending again, the studies examining general deterrence, or the ability for the mere presence of capital punishment to deter others in society, are less compelling. Similarly, while the public is arguably protected in a sense when someone is executed, the death penalty is expensive to administer, and its use diverts costs that could be used for other programs to "protect the public." Finally, it is hard to see how the death penalty "rehabilitates" in any meaningful fashion the person who is executed. Ultimately, the question must be not just what purpose punishment serves but also who should benefit from the punishment?  

To learn more, watch the video of Amy Cyphert's full Campus Read presentation: