Punishment and Victimology

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  • Created by: Amy
  • Created on: 24-01-13 21:51

Punishment and Victimology

Punishment can be seen as a form of crime prevention. It involves deliberate harm against the offender, justified as a means of reduction and retribution.

Reduction – punishments that prevent future crimes:

  • Deterrence – making an example of the offender to put others off (functionalism -Durkheim – degradation ceremonies
  • Rehabilitation: to reform and prevent reoffending (e.g. education)
  • Incapacitation: to remove the capacity to reoffend (e.g. prison)


  • Punishes crimes that have already occurred: the offender pays society back for breaking society’s moral code.
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Punishment serves the interests of the ruling class. It helps maintain their power and control over the subject class and forms part of the repressive state apparatus (e.g. police/courts/army/prisons etc) that force the subject class to conform to the ruling class ideology.

The repressive state apparatus stops the subject class from challenging the ruling class, by repressing them through the different agencies and enforcements of the law.

Punishment can be seen as part of the RSA repressive state apparatus is a means of defending ruling-class property from the lower classes and forces people to conform to the ruling class’ ideology

This is essential for a capitalist society because if the subject class were not oppressed, they would challenge the ruling class and overthrow them.

Prison reflects relations of productions (factories) because if a person does something wrong, they are punished, in either circumstance. Moreover, capitalism puts a price on their worker’s time; so prisoners do too ‘pay’ and do time for their crime.

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Durkheim argued punishment has the function of reinforcing a value consensus and creating social solidarity as society unites in an expression of outrage against the offender. Durkheim identifies two types of justice, both of which are expressive or emotional:

Retributive justice: punishment is expressive against those who have offended in a traditional society. 

Restitutive justice: typical of a modern society and punishment aims to restore society to how it was before the offence, therefore, restoring social stability. 

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Foucault: birth of the prison

Foucault distinguishes between two types of power: 

  • Sovereign power: before the 19th century, a monarch had absolute power over their people. Punishments were against the body and in public
  • Disciplinary power: from the 19th century onwards. This creates governance of the mind and soul through surveillance, as shown by panoptican: a prison where all cells are visible from a central watch tower. The prisoners know they could be watched but not if they are being watched, so they must behave if they are. This creates self-surveillance, and discipline becomes self-discipline. It takes place in a prison and ‘inside’ the prisoner’s mind or soul. 
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What has happened to the prison population in England and Wales between 1998 and 2005?

It has greatly increased. The number of prisoners  in England & Wales grew by about 70% to reach 77,000.

How does the prison population of England and Wales compare with that of other countries?

It is the highest than almost any other in Western Europe.

What reasons are given for the recent prison population in England and Wales?

Because the politicians have sought electoral popularity by calling for tougher sentences. So that not only serious offenders are prosecuted, but also as a deterrent for persistent petty offenders.

What consequences are identified? 

It is producing overcrowding. Therefore, it is adding to existing problems such as poor sanitation, barely edible food, clothing shortages, lack of education, and work opportunities and lastly inadequate family visits.

What evidence could there be to suggest that prison is not effective?

That about 2 thirds of prisoners commit further crimes on release.

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Use an interactionist view to explain why prisons are ‘simply an expensive way of making bad people worse’

They are labelled as a criminal by being put in prison, which they would be unhappy and embarrassed with this label. Because they are publically labelled it becomes their master status. This then leads to the self fulfilling prophecy which then usually leads to them committing further crime.

Which social groups are most likely to end up in prison? Explain this using a interactionist view

As the police have their ‘ideal’ criminal they are more likely to be arrested. This is usually young black males, so it’s no surprise to see that the prison population is largely male, young and poorly educated, black and ethnic minorities are over-represented.

Why could it be argued that the UK and USA are now in an ‘era of mass incarceration’?

prison population has largely risen, most of last century

Explain what ideological function Marxists may believe an era of mass incarceration may serve

They would say that because of an era of mass incarceration, the number of unemployed people will decrease. Which will make the capitalist society look good. Even though, there is a rise of criminals in society.

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A victim is someone who has suffered harm (including physical, emotional, financial, etc) because laws have been broken. Victims are an essential part of the criminal justice process as they provide much information to the police and courts for the prosecution of offenders. There are two approaches to victimology:

  • Positivist victimology: looks at factors that make some groups more prone to be victims (e.g. women and the elderly). This implies the victim ‘invites’ crimes against them because of the person they are. Positivist victimologists also recognise the victim may start the crime. E.g. where one personal assaults another but is injured when the other defends themselves.
  • Critical victimology: based on conflict theories (e.g. Marxism and Feminism) and examine structural causes in society that mean some groups become victims of crime (e.g. capitalism/poor, patriarchy/women). They also recognise the state has the power to apply or deny the label of the victim: e.g. the victims of police violence might not be labelled as victims. Slabber and Tombs argue this hides the crimes of the powerful and denies powerless victims the recognition that they have been harmed.
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Patterns of victimisation

The risk of being the victim of a crime is not spread evenly across the population: some groups are more at risk than others:

·         Class: lower class are more likely to be victims as they tend to live in areas of high crime rates and lack home/personal security. Homeless people are particularly risk of violence.

·         Age: infants under one are more at risk or murder; teenagers are most at risk of violence/sexual assault and the elderly at risk of abuse, from carers and families

·         Gender: males at risk in public; females at risk at home and of sexual assault

·         Ethnicity: ethnic minority groups more at risk of violence than the ethnic majority, especially racially motivated violent crime

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The effects of victimisation

Crime can have serious psychological consequences on its victims. In some cases, they may also feel let down by the criminal justice system that should protect them and it can generate a fear of further crimes

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Researching victims of crime

Some crimes do not have an obvious victim e.g. drug dealing/prostitution. Sometimes a victim may not be aware they are a victim, especially with corporate crime.

Some victims are hidden e.g. domestic violence/child abuse.

Victims are vulnerable and need to be treated with sensitivity. Victims are talking about a past event, and are therefore dependent on their memory: some information may be concealed or exaggerated.  


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End of card 6:

They would say that because of an era of mass incarceration, the number of unemployed people will decrease. Which will make the capitalist society look good. Even though, there is a rise of criminals in society.

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