Even in the most peaceful communities, an appetite for violence shows up in dreams, fantasies, sports, play, literature, movies and television. And, so long as we don’t transform into angels, violence and the threat of violence – as in punishment and deterrence – is needed to rein in our worst instincts.

– Paul Bloom, NY Times

The two types of deterrence are:

  1. Specific or Individual Deterrence. After a punishment has been meted out to a convicted offender, the resulting fear of incurring a similar punishment is what deters them from committing future crimes once released. For example, after serving a 6-month sentence for burglary, a newly released offender is less likely to commit a new burglary.
  2. General Deterrence. The public’s awareness of punishments applied to convicts translates to individuals being aware that they might receive a similar punishment if they commit a crime, thus deterring them from the offence. For example, a man considering whether to commit perjury on a tax form is deterred by his awareness that President Clinton was impeached for perjury.

For released offenders, specific deterrence is more effective than general deterrence. The certainty of getting caught is considered a more effective deterrent than the severity of the punishment. Deterrence is one among several justifications for punishing offenders:

  • Deterrence. Dissuading offenders and potential offenders from committing crimes.
  • Retribution. When an offender is punished, their victim is less likely to pursue vengeance and commit crimes against the offender.
  • Incapacitation. When an offender is removed from the general population, they are unable to commit new crimes outside of prison.
  • Rehabilitation. After participating in vocational, treatment, and counseling programs, rehabilitated offenders are less like to commit crimes when released.
Dark alley where convicted offender considers deterrence.

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