Since the time of ancient civilizations, criminal laws have been distinctive for the uniquely serious potential consequences for failure to abide by the law of a specific culture or region of the world. With the exception of monarch, dictatorial and communist rule, every crime in a society is composed of criminal elements that must be proven by some form of prosecution. Throughout the ages, humans have created five objectives that are now widely accepted for enforcement of criminal laws.
1. RETRIBUTION– This objective is aimed at satisfying the thirst for revenge, anger, and hate. The idea is that criminals ought to suffer in some way for their crimes. This is also the most widely seen goal today.
Put another way, if a criminal has taken improper advantage, or inflicted unfair pain upon others, then the criminal law will put the criminal at some unpleasant disadvantage to “balance the scales of justice.” People submit to the law to receive the right not to be imprisoned or executed. If people break these laws, they surrender the rights granted to them by the law. Therefore, a murderer may well be executed himself for taking the life of another.
2. DETERRENCE– The objective of deterrence has two sub-parts. Individual deterrence is aimed toward the specific offender. The goal is to impose a sufficient penalty to discourage the offender from criminal behavior. An example would be for a judge to sentence a repeat DUI offender to a few weeks in jail with the hope that he or she will not offend again.
General deterrence aims at society as a whole. By imposing a penalty on those who commit offenses, other individuals are discouraged from committing those offenses. The Romans used crucifixion for this purpose. When onlookers saw a criminal placed on a cross, they would think twice about offending the laws of Rome.
3. INCAPACITATION– This is the most simplistic of the five objectives. Incapacitation is designed to just keep criminals away from society so that the public is protected from their dangerous behavior. This is often achieved through lengthy prison sentences today. However, the death penalty and banishment provisions in a sentence can serve the same purpose.
4. REHABILITATION – Rehabilitation is one of the newer aims in the criminal justice system. This is particularly true in the state of Georgia. This approach tries to transform an offender into a valuable member of society. Its primary goal is to prevent further crimes by treating the underlying issues that may be causing the criminal behavior. The best example is the rehabilitation of drug offenders. Many people commit crimes because they are addicted to drugs. If the offender can be treated for the addiction, oftentimes the criminal behavior ceases to exist.
5. RESTORATION – This goal can really be applied to any of the four above. The idea is to repair any injury inflicted upon the victim by the offender. For example, one who steals $2000 from his neighbor will be required to repay that amount as part of the sentence. Restoration, or restitution as we call it in Georgia, is actually rather closely related to concepts in our civil justice system. Society wants to return the victim to his or her original position before the injury inflicted by the offender.
Societies differ greatly on the value of each of these objectives. The United States has implemented a broad mixture of all five objectives. However, we differ greatly by region. Most Southern and Western states still impose the death penalty in the most heinous cases. Other states have abolished capital punishment and use a very lenient system of parole.
In Georgia, we have a healthy criminal justice system that is improving every year with the help of our governor and General Assembly. We still use the death penalty in the appropriate manner. However, the use of drug courts, mental health courts, and drug treatment programs are also used to rehabilitate offenders in many cases. As with most other important societal issues, Georgia is “on top of its game.”