Religious attitudes to crime and punishment

An overview of Unit 4 of Religion and Morality

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  • Created by: Kate
  • Created on: 18-05-12 08:18

Crime and religious beliefs on law and order

Crime is an extensive problem - and only a small fraction are reported - the number of crimes that aren't reported is called the "dark figure" of crime. A crime is an offence that is punishable by law

All major religions acknowledge a need for law in a society to avoid chaos

Buddhists believe that if a person does something wrong, it is not God, but their karma that will punish them and ensure justice

Christians believe that man "reaps what he sows". They acknowledge that criminals must be punished but alos given a second chance, It is important to prevent the causes of crime

Hindus are encouraged to keep the law and also fulfil their religious duties. They believe that they will also be punished by karma

Muslims believe in the improtance of law and order

Jews have a clear idea of justice in the Torah, including the 10 commandments

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Causes of crime

It is because of duty (a moral or legal obligation), responsibility (a duty to care for something or someone) and conscience (the inner feeling that you are doing right or wrong) that people are law obiding.

Social reasons: Most young people in prison had a poor education and so crime made them feel like they had achieved something, and can be exciting. Abusive parents and broken homes can provide poor role models. Crime can be a way of getting people back when people feel that society has let them down. Addiction could be paid for through crime

Environmental reasons: High unemployment encourages crime. Also, growing up in a gang culture can lead to pressure to join. Uncared for environments such as poor housing encourages crime

Psychological reasons: The majority of people in prison suffer from mental health issues. Some people would say that it is human nature to be selfish and greedy. Criminologists also say that people try and copy the violence on TV

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Types of crime

Civil law involves disputes between private individuals

Criminal law is when the state law has been broken, involving police gathering evidence

Non-indictable offences are less serious ones (e.g. speeding) where the offender would not go to prison

Indictable offences are more serious (e.g. murder) where a person would face a sentence

Crime against the person: wrongdoing that directly harms a person (e.g. murder)

Crime against property: damaging items that belong to somebody else (e.g. vandalis or theft)

Crime against the state: an offence aimed at damaging the government or a country (e.g. terrorist activities)

Religious offences: an offence against religion (e.g. blasphemy, breaking a religious law) it may or may not be a crime depending on where and what it is.

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The aims of punishment

Protection: keeping the public from being harmed or threatened by criminals

Retribution: an aim of punishment to get your own back - a punishment that fits the crime

Deterrence: an aim to put people off commiting crimes (e.g. in Muslim societies public beatings)

Reform: to change someone's behaviour for the better - to turn criminals into law abiding citizens

Vindication: offenders must be punished to show that the law must be respected (e.g. that people must take notice of traffic lights)

Reparation: an aim of punishment designed to help the offender give something back to society

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Religious responses to the aims of punishment

Buddhists: protection, reformation, reparation (karma). Not retribution (makes people bitter)

Christians: All aims. Most important is reformation, and prevention - removing causes. Criminals should have both punishment and forgiveness. Most are against retribution - "if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him"

Hindus: In Hindu scriptures the 4 main aims are: deterrence, retribution, protection, reformation. Punishments were according to caste. Reformation is important because of need for future good karma

Muslims: main focus on deterrence (public beatings, humiliation)

Jews: Mostly deterrence. Also so that the offender is repentant + reforms

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Young offenders and punishments

Young offenders are those under 18

Minor offences are dealt with without court, the aim to support the child

More serious offences appear before a youth court, which may give reparation orders or curfew orders

Serious cases are heard in a crown court, and the person will be held in custody and sentenced to a kind of secure accomodation:

  • secure training centre - have a focus on education and rehabilitation
  • secure children's homes - focus on physical, behavioural and emotional needs
  • young offender institutions - run by prison service and hold 15-21 yr olds

The Anglican church wanted to end locking young people away but were rejected by the home office

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Why send people to prison?

  • Protection
  • Retribution by isolating people
  • Prevent reoffending
  • Deterrence and vindication
  • Give a chance to reform


  • They are expensive
  • They allow criminals to mix and so prisoners can educate each other in crime
  • Most reoffend on release
  • A prison record makes getting a job hard, so may lead to reoffending
  • Families suffer and relationships can break down

All major religions accept the needs for prisons, especially for reform so support programmes that improve the prisoners. Buddhist, Muslim and Christian chaplains often visit prisons in the UK. SIkhs have demanded reform as in some countries they have been forced to cut their hair and not wear a turban

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Capital punishment

Arguments for:

  • Retribution - "a life for a life"
  • Deterrence
  • Protection - life sentences rarely are life#
  • Finance - prison is expensive

Arguments against:

  • Mistakes
  • Protection - prison is enough to protect society
  • Deterrence - there is no evidence this is more of a deterrrent than life.
  • Reformation - it doesn't give people a chance
  • Right - only God has the right to end life
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Religious beliefs about capital punishment

Buddhism: It goes against Buddhist teaching on non-violence, but some Buddhist countries keep it as a deterrent

Christians: Many Christians support capial punishment as "whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed". They support it as a deterrent. Others say it's not a deterrent, innocents may be killed and it removes the chance of repentance and reformation, Only God can take life

Hindus: sacred writings support it and India carrries it out, but it goes against ahisma

Islam: agrees with the death penalty. It can be for conversion from Islam or murder. The next of kin to the victim sometimes accepts money instead

Judaism: Israel retains the death penalty, but it is so strict that in practice it is never used

Sikhs believe that we shouldn't stoop to the level of the murderers

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Forms of punishment

Community service: unpaid work that an offender performs for the benefit of the community instead of going to prison. Some see it as a soft option and people can also keep offending  while doing it. Others see that people can keep their day job and it has for higher reform rates

Electronic tagging: an offender wears an electronic device which tracks their movement. this allows people to finish sentences at home, and alerts the police to them. It is far cheaper and very few reoffend  with them, and most are driving offences

Fines: money paid as punishment to minor crimes. The amount reflects the crima and the person's financial situation

Probation: an alternative to prison where a person has to meet regularly with a probation officer to ensure they don't reoffend. Usually when the offence is seen as one off. This is usually with a suspended sentence and gives a chance to reform

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Life imprisonment, parole, prison reform

Parole: when a prisoner is released without having completed their sentence because they've behaved well and accepted their guilt. The prisoner is monitored to ensure that they don't reoffend. If the conditions for parole are broken they will be re-imprisoned

Life imprisonment: a prison sentence that theoretically keeps people in prison until they die. The average sentence is 15 years before the prisoner is eligible for parole. The chance of release gives hope to prisoners as life can have a bad psychological impact

Early release: when a prisoner is allowed out of prison even though they have not completed their sentence and are not yet ready for parole. This could be for good behaviour or overcrowding. Some may see it as unfair and the released may reoffend, but it allows chance for reform

Many consider prison reform is neccessary for better conditionsm, but others say prisoners don't deserve this. Also the conditions for sending someone to prison may need to be different because of overcrowding. Some people think that more support should be given to the families of those in prison. Also the reoffending rates are very high

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