close up photography of person in handcuffs

Views of Punishment

Punishment is a part of juvenile justice. However, as with most ideas and concepts, there is disagreement over the role and function of punishment. In this post, we will look at common positions in relation to punishment.


The reductivist position on punishment views punishment as a means to prevent future crimes. This approach is based on a utilitarian position of causing the most happiness for the most people. By focusing on future crimes it is believed that preventing these crimes will bring the most harmony and happiness to people rather than looking at what has already happened.


There are several strategies that are used to support a reductivist approach. For example, the use of deterrence. Deterrence is the use of punishment to prevent crime by instilling fear. An example of deterrence would be capital punishment. Through hanging or public execution, the thought is that this will motivate others to be good. Other forms of deterrence that are used today would be boot camps which are meant to whip delinquent youths into shape and in some countries, corporal punishment such as caning is employed to maintain order.

Another manifestation of reductivism is reform-rehabilitation. Reform is meant to mean hard labor, such as working in a chain gang along with religious instruction. Rehabilitation involves treatment for some sort of vice that may have led to incarceration such as substance abuse, sex treatment, etc. The assumption is that there is something wrong with the prisoner that can be fixed through treatment. Again, the motivation behind reform and rehabilitation is to change the person for the benefit of society.

A final form of reductivism is incapacitation. Incapacitation is simply a strategy of keeping offenders locked up to protect the public. One way this was done was through the three strikes law used in parts of the United States. Once a person committed a third felony the sentencing could be 25 years to life.


The retributivist position looks to punish people for crimes already committed with no regard for the future. In other words, retributivists focus on the past while reductivists focus on the future. Punishment should restore equilibrium and focus on what is right to do rather than what is good to do (utilitarian position). The reason for this distinction is that right and wrong are more immovable than what makes people happy.

The main strategy for retribution is just deserts. Just deserts are a way of punishing people for the crimes they have committed and doing no more. As such, there is no support for three-strike laws, deterrence, or other methods among people who have a retributivist perspective.


The point is not to state that one of these positions is superior to the other. Rather, the goal was to explain these two different positions to inform the reader about them. There are times and circumstances in which one of the positions would be a better position than the other.

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