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The Penal System and Prisons: Understanding Penology as a Sociology of Penal Policies

For the most part, penology stood and continues to stand for the policy of punishing offenders due to their wrongdoing.

But aside from the practice of detaining criminals, penology can reasonably extend to cover other non-punitive policies like probation, education, medical treatment, and rehabilitation of the offender. This description is the most accepted sense of penology at present.

Understanding Penology as a Sociology of Penal Policies

This website provides valuable information about the penal system to help you understand more about why prisons and other correctional facilities exist and the purpose they’re meant to serve.

What is penology, and why do we need to view penal policies from a sociological standpoint? Why do prisons and punishments exist in the first place?

This article tackles penology and the importance of learning about this subject as a form of sociology of penal policies. The write-up also discusses the justifications for why prisons and punishments exist.

Why Learn About Penology as a Form of Sociology of Penal Policies?

Penal science principally aims to:

  • Bring to light the ethical grounds for punishment and society’s purposes and motives for inflicting such a punishment on the offender.
  • Make a comparative study of penal procedures and laws throughout history and between nations.
  • Evaluate the outcomes of these policies enforced on society at a given time.

From these objectives, you can see that penology represents and covers several studies, some of which deal with the history, goals, and social or moral justifications of punishment. Other related studies are concerned with the penal systems’ broader social implications.

Penology is the study of punishments, including the theories explaining why people commit specific crimes.

The study of punishments also focuses on various punishments like incarceration or probation implemented within society. A penologist (a person who studies or is an expert in penology) can evaluate how specific punishments impact recidivism or the tendency of a criminal to commit crimes again.

The penologist also studies how various punishments came into existence for specific offenses. Such studies determine how broad or narrow a punishment must be to discourage or prevent people from committing certain crimes.

For example, the penologist can explore what punishments are appropriate for theft and how extensive these punishments should be according to the gravity of the crime, like the value of the stolen item.

Penologists can also study how specific crimes have different punishments between countries and what factors determine such differences.

For instance, in Iran, you can get punished by lashing for insulting any leader of the country’s government or by death if you insult Prophet Mohammed. On the other hand, U.S. citizens can’t go to prison for insulting government officials or religious figureheads.

One controversial form of punishment penologists can study is the death penalty. In the United States, lethal injection is the most common death penalty method. This form of punishment is legal in 32 states as of April 21, 2022.

Not all countries allow the death penalty, and countries implementing this penalty can vary in the way they carry out this punishment. For example, some countries use lethal injection, while others involve hanging.

Studying the death penalty involves learning and understanding the reasons behind its implementation and the various execution methods used.

A penologist can also study the death penalty process and how it affects inmates on death row.

The Sociological Perspective of Penology

The sociology of punishment provides a framework for evaluating penal institutions to give a more realistic approach than the punishment-as-moral-problem concept or the punishment-as-crime-control method in penological studies.

In this framework, various sociological perspectives view punishment as a complex social institution. Social and historical forces shape these perspectives and have numerous effects on offenders and those outside their population.

Such perspectives include:

  • The Durkheimian perspective: Considers punishment as a solidarity-producing and morality-affirming mechanism based on collective sentiments.
  • Marxist studies: Interpret punishment as an economically conditioned state tool playing a political and ideological role for the ruling class to dominate society.
  • Foucault’s work: Focuses on specific power-knowledge technologies operating in the penal environment and links them to broader discipline and regulation networks.
  • Norbert Elias’s works: Refers to the importance of the civilizing process and cultural sensibilities in shaping a society’s modern penal measures.

Learning about these perspectives can help bring together a multidimensional view of punishment and its social forms, functions, and significance. These elements can help promote appropriate and more realistic objectives for crafting penal policies.

Primary Justifications for Punishments

There are five primary underlying justifications for criminal punishment:

  • Retribution: When an individual has committed a wrongful act, the state should inflict a justifiable punishment on them proportional to the gravity of the wrongdoing committed.
  • Incapacitation: This theory assumes that the state must protect the public from future harm or wrongs.

In this case, incapacitation can provide the state with such protection by preventing future crime by restricting or disabling the offender’s liberty, movement, or ability to commit a further wrong.

  • Deterrence: This justification is when the state’s aim in imposing punishment is to prevent offenders from committing crimes again.

Aside from minimizing or preventing repeat offenses, general deterrence imposes punishment to deter other potential offenders from committing crimes in the first place.

  • Rehabilitation: The core premise of rehabilitation is that punishment can help prevent future crimes by rehabilitating offenders to reform their behavior.

Rehabilitation can involve educational and vocational programs, counseling, skills, training, or intervention programs.

  • Reparation: In criminal justice, when an offender commits a crime, they must make amends to correct the wrong they have done to the victim.

In other words, compensation and restitution to the victims, their families, or communities are vital objectives when crafting policies in criminal justice.

To know more about penology and the penal system in your area, visit your local department of corrections or other authorities involved in the criminal justice system.

After working as digital marketing consultant for 4 years Deepak decided to leave and start his own Business. To know more about Deepak, find him on Facebook, LinkedIn now.


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