Restraint is undoubtedly one of the most practical and tangible purposes of punishment in criminal law.
Restraint is undoubtedly one of the most practical and tangible purposes of punishment in criminal law. Removing a criminal from society and preventing him or her from committing more crimes provides individuals with instant certainty that these crimes will no longer be perpetrated by that criminal – at least for the time being. And most people feel that it is the law’s role to physically remove dangerous offenders from society and restrict them from committing other crimes.
The issue isn’t so much whether dangerous criminals should be detained as it is whether criminals are dangerous or harmful enough to merit restriction and for how long. A pick-pocket who makes a livelihood in Times Square is undoubtedly a worse menace to society than a guy who mistakenly kills his wife’s assailant. Nonetheless, the pick-pocket will most likely be released from prison sooner than the spouse.
In addition to the criminal offender’s relative threat, criminal law courts examine the amount of cooperation they obtain when deciding whether and how long he or she should be confined. Someone convicted of petty theft who breaches parole, or a drunk driver who commits the same violation, may need to be physically restrained in a correctional institution (incarceration). On the other hand, first-time offenders who comply with the law and complete the terms of their first sentence are unlikely to do so.
It is difficult to argue that constraint should be a component of criminal punishment. Few people would honestly advocate for the abolition of imprisonment. On the other hand, when constraint fails to accomplish rehabilitation, a strong case is made against it. Without rehabilitating criminal criminals while they are jailed, society often spends tax funds to postpone, rather than prevent, crime. Rather than implementing a policy of life-long jail for every severe criminal offender, criminal law lawmakers and judiciaries must reflect this fact when setting sentences. It should be observed that the objection is not so much a defence of restraint as it is a defence of the significance of adequately rehabilitating criminal criminals.