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The individual may be a person, or even an animal.

The authority may be either a group or a single person, and punishment may be carried out formally under a system of law or informally in other kinds of social settings such as within a family. Justifications for punishment include retribution , deterrence , rehabilitation , and incapacitation. The last could include such measures as isolation, in order to prevent the wrongdoer's having contact with potential victims, or the removal of a hand in order to make theft more difficult. If only some of the conditions included in the definition of punishment are present, descriptions other than "punishment" may be considered more accurate.

Inflicting something negative, or unpleasant, on a person or animal, without authority is considered revenge or spite rather than punishment. In other situations, breaking a rule may be rewarded, and so receiving such a reward naturally does not constitute punishment. Finally the condition of breaking or breaching the rules must be satisfied for consequences to be considered punishment. Punishments differ in their degree of severity, and may include sanctions such as reprimands , deprivations of privileges or liberty , fines, incarcerations , ostracism , the infliction of pain , amputation and the death penalty.

Corporal punishment refers to punishments in which physical pain is intended to be inflicted upon the transgressor. Punishments may be judged as fair or unfair in terms of their degree of reciprocity and proportionality [3] to the offense. Punishment can be an integral part of socialization, and punishing unwanted behaviour is often part of a system of pedagogy or behavioral modification which also includes rewards.

Various philosophers have presented definitions of punishment. Introduced by B.

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Skinner , punishment has a more restrictive and technical definition. Along with reinforcement it belongs under the operant conditioning category. Operant conditioning refers to learning with either punishment often confused as negative reinforcement or a reward that serves as a positive reinforcement of the lesson to be learned [9]. In psychology, punishment is the reduction of a behavior via application of an unpleasant stimulus " positive punishment" or removal of a pleasant stimulus " negative punishment".

Extra chores or spanking are examples of positive punishment, while removing an offending student's recess or play privileges are examples of negative punishment. The definition requires that punishment is only determined after the fact by the reduction in behavior; if the offending behavior of the subject does not decrease, it is not considered punishment. There is some conflation of punishment and aversives , though an aversion that does not decrease behavior is not considered punishment in psychology [10] [11].

Additionally, "aversive stimulus" is a label behaviorists generally apply to negative reinforcers as in avoidance learning , rather than punishers.

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Punishment is sometimes called retaliatory or moralistic aggression ; [12] it has been observed in all [ clarification needed ] species of social animals ,leading evolutionary biologists to conclude that it is an evolutionarily stable strategy , selected because it favors cooperative behavior. One criticism of the claim of all social animals being evolutionarily hardwired for punishment comes from studies of animals, such as the octopuses near Capri , Italy that suddenly formed communal cultures from having, until then lived solitary lives.

During a period of heavy fishing and tourism that encroached on their territory, they started to live in groups, learning from each other, especially hunting techniques. Small, younger octopuses could be near the fully grown octopuses without being eaten by them, even though they, like other Octopus vulgaris, were cannibals until just before the group formation.

The authors also note that the octopuses adopted observational learning without any evolutionary history of specialized adaptation for it.


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There are also arguments against the notion of punishment requiring intelligence, based on studies of punishment in very small-brained animals such as insects. There is proof of honey bee workers with mutations that makes them fertile laying eggs only when other honey bees are not observing them, and that the few that are caught in the act are killed. The authors argue that this falsifies the claim that punishment evolved as a strategy to deal with individuals capable of knowing what they are doing.

That punishment of individuals with certain characteristics including but, in principle, not restricted to mental abilities selects against those characteristics, making evolution of any mental abilities considered to be the basis for penal responsibility impossible in populations subject to such selective punishment. Certain scientists argue that this disproves the notion of humans having a biological feeling of intentional transgressions deserving to be punished. Punishments are applied for various purposes, most generally, to encourage and enforce proper behavior as defined by society or family.


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  • Criminals are punished judicially, by fines , corporal punishment or custodial sentences such as prison ; detainees risk further punishments for breaches of internal rules [21]. Children , pupils and other trainees may be punished by their educators or instructors mainly parents , guardians , or teachers , tutors and coaches — see Child discipline. Slaves , domestic and other servants are subject to punishment by their masters. Employees can still be subject to a contractual form of fine or demotion. Most hierarchical organizations, such as military and police forces, or even churches, still apply quite rigid internal discipline, even with a judicial system of their own court martial , canonical courts.

    Punishment may also be applied on moral, especially religious, grounds, as in penance which is voluntary or imposed in a theocracy with a religious police as in a strict Islamic state like Iran or under the Taliban or though not a true theocracy by Inquisition. Belief that an individual's ultimate punishment is being sent by God, the highest authority, to an existence in Hell, a place believed to exist in the after-life, typically corresponds to sins committed during their life.

    Sometimes these distinctions are specific, with damned souls suffering for each sin committed see for example Plato's myth of Er or Dante's The Divine Comedy , but sometimes they are general, with condemned sinners relegated to one or more chamber of Hell or to a level of suffering. In many religious cultures, including Christianity and Islam, Hell is traditionally depicted as fiery and painful, inflicting guilt and suffering. Buddhist — and particularly Tibetan Buddhist — descriptions of hell feature an equal number of hot and cold hells. Among Christian descriptions Dante 's Inferno portrays the innermost 9th circle of Hell as a frozen lake of blood and guilt.

    A principle often mentioned with respect to the degree of punishment to be meted out is that the punishment should match the crime.

    Measurements of the degree of seriousness of a crime have been developed. There are many possible reasons that might be given to justify or explain why someone ought to be punished; here follows a broad outline of typical, possibly conflicting, justifications. One reason given to justify punishment [7] is that it is a measure to prevent people from committing an offence - deterring previous offenders from re-offending, and preventing those who may be contemplating an offence they have not committed from actually committing it.

    This punishment is intended to be sufficient that people would choose not to commit the crime rather than experience the punishment. The aim is to deter everyone in the community from committing offences. Some criminologists state that the number of people convicted for crime does not decrease as a result of more severe punishment and conclude that deterrence is ineffective. These criminologists therefore argue that lack of deterring effect of increasing the sentences for already severely punished crimes say nothing about the significance of the existence of punishment as a deterring factor.

    Some criminologists argue that increasing the sentences for crimes can cause criminal investigators to give higher priority to said crimes so that a higher percentage of those committing them are convicted for them, causing statistics to give a false appearance of such crimes increasing. These criminologists argue that the use of statistics to gauge the efficiency of crime fighting methods are a danger of creating a reward hack that makes the least efficient criminal justice systems appear to be best at fighting crime, and that the appearance of deterrence being ineffective may be an example of this.

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    Some punishment includes work to reform and rehabilitate the culprit so that they will not commit the offence again. Incapacitation as a justification of punishment [7] refers to the offender's ability to commit further offences being removed. Imprisonment separates offenders from the community, for example, Australia was a dumping ground for early British criminals.

    This was their way of removing or reducing the offenders ability to carry out certain crimes. The death penalty does this in a permanent and irrevocable way. In some societies, people who stole have been punished by having their hands amputated. Criminal activities typically give a benefit to the offender and a loss to the victim. Punishment has been justified as a measure of retributive justice , [7] [37] in which the goal is to try to rebalance any unjust advantage gained by ensuring that the offender also suffers a loss.

    Sometimes viewed as a way of "getting even" with a wrongdoer—the suffering of the wrongdoer is seen as a desired goal in itself, even if it has no restorative benefits for the victim. One reason societies have administered punishments is to diminish the perceived need for retaliatory "street justice", blood feud , and vigilantism. For minor offenses, punishment may take the form of the offender "righting the wrong", or making restitution to the victim.

    Community service or compensation orders are examples of this sort of penalty. Punishment can be explained by positive prevention theory to use the criminal justice system to teach people what are the social norms for what is correct, and acts as a reinforcement. Punishment can serve as a means for society to publicly express denunciation of an action as being criminal. Besides educating people regarding what is not acceptable behavior, it serves the dual function of preventing vigilante justice by acknowledging public anger, while concurrently deterring future criminal activity by stigmatizing the offender.

    This is sometimes called the "Expressive Theory" of denunciation. Some critics of the education and denunciation model cite evolutionary problems with the notion that a feeling for punishment as a social signal system evolved if punishment was not effective. The critics argue that some individuals spending time and energy and taking risks in punishing others, and the possible loss of the punished group members, would have been selected against if punishment served no function other than signals that could evolve to work by less risky means.

    A unified theory of punishment brings together multiple penal purposes—such as retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation—in a single, coherent framework. Instead of punishment requiring we choose between them, unified theorists argue that they work together as part of some wider goal such as the protection of rights.

    Some people think that punishment as a whole is unhelpful and even harmful to the people that it is used against. Critics argue that punishment is simply revenge. We ought not to impose such harm on anyone unless we have a very good reason for doing so. This remark may seem trivially true, but the history of humankind is littered with examples of the deliberate infliction of harm by well-intentioned persons in the vain pursuit of ends which that harm did not further, or in the successful pursuit of questionable ends. These benefactors of humanity sacrificed their fellows to appease mythical gods and tortured them to save their souls from a mythical hell, broke and bound the feet of children to promote their eventual marriageability, beat slow schoolchildren to promote learning and respect for teachers, subjected the sick to leeches to rid them of excess blood, and put suspects to the rack and the thumbscrew in the service of truth.

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    They schooled themselves to feel no pity—to renounce human compassion in the service of a higher end. The deliberate doing of harm in the mistaken belief that it promotes some greater good is the essence of tragedy. We would do well to ask whether the goods we seek in harming offenders are worthwhile, and whether the means we choose will indeed secure them.

    Golash also writes about imprisonment :. Imprisonment means, at minimum, the loss of liberty and autonomy, as well as many material comforts, personal security, and access to heterosexual relations. But these are only the minimum harms, suffered by the least vulnerable inmates in the best-run prisons. Most prisons are run badly, and in some, conditions are more squalid than in the worst of slums. Consider, for instance, the widespread popular participation in the drama of the scaffold — not only as crowds witnessing executions, 52 but as consumers of many forms of popular culture.

    DeathQuest An Introduction to the Theory and Practice of Capital Punishment in the United States

    Often — and, within this literary genre, ideally — such reception included scaffold speeches that consisted of confession and penitence, transforming execution into a potential scene of redemption within Christian cosmology. The vision of legitimate power and authority which underpinned the early modern English penal system did not, of course, consist only or even primarily in Christian doctrines: here as in other early and some existing systems, social codes of honour and status were also important.

    Within this system of meaning and the prevailing cultural, moral and political economy, as Douglas Hay has persuasively argued, 58 prerogatives such as pardoning and mercy, highly discretionary and unevenly applied though they were, made sense. But, as the source and form of political authority has been subject to a process of systematisation and rationalisation in the construction of the modern nation state, older forms of ordering and of meaning-making have been eroded.

    But to contemporaries, not only the complex dramaturgy represented by spectacular penalties such as that of Damiens, but more routine corporal penalties such as maiming and branding, related in some intuitively meaningful way to the wrong done. The effort to build a modern equivalent to the lex talionis has long taken the form of appeals to proportionality. Whosoever on purpose and of malice forethought shall maim another, or shall disfigure him, by cutting out or disabling the tongue, slitting or cutting off a nose, lip or ear, branding, or otherwise, shall be maimed or disfigured in like sort: or if that cannot be for want of the same part, then as nearly as may be in some other part of at least equal value and estimation in the opinion of a jury … In the neoclassical revival of the late 20 th century, the appeal to proportionality tended to be realised rather in the technical form of procedural mechanisms such as sentencing guideline systems.

    Moreover there are significant differences between what is now considered proportionate within particular countries as compared with 40 years ago — as exemplified by the emergence of mandatory sentencing in many jurisdictions, notably the United States and England and Wales. But such an appeal can in itself contribute little to the construction of norms adequate to limit state punishment. Indeed, proportionality represents an intuitively shared starting point precisely because it is virtually indeterminate in its substantive implications: in other words, it simply defers the crucial and complicated processes of meaning-making, consensus-building and institutional development.