1. What are the distinguishing features of a retributive theory of punishment?
The question requires an understanding that retributive punishment is based in part on the notion of ‘an eye for an eye’ and that where there is a crime there is a need for retribution or revenge on behalf of society. Your answer should identify how this theory works in practice and might identify some of the challenges of determining an appropriate retributive punishment. For example, in the case of a violent crime this does not mean that the offender should also suffer violence, but the retributive theory might require the offender experiences ‘appropriate’ harm such as a temporary loss of liberty.
2. Why do you think the idea of ‘making the punishment fit the crime’ appears to be popular?
In addressing this question, you might explore the idea of ‘just desserts’ and consider the extent to which the punishment is seen as deserved in light of the crime. Your answer might also explore ideas of proportionality, determinacy (once an appropriate punishment is imposed the matter is considered dealt with) and equal treatment. This question also raises some points about the legitimacy of punishment and that an appropriate punishment tailored to fit the crime is one way that retributive punishment achieves legitimacy and popularity.
3. What have been the most significant historical changes in the administration of punishments?
This question invites an exploration of the move away from public punishment (including executions) as a form of revenge on behalf of society (and victims) and towards the use of prisons and incarceration as the primary form of retribution. You might explore the use of prison as a deterrent and its possibility of rehabilitation compared with the finality of the death penalty. An answer to this question might also explore the introduction of community sentences (e.g. Community Service and Community Payback) and the extent to which these represent the inclusion of reparation, or some form of giving back, into our notion of punishment.
4. Why is it difficult to establish a basis for judging the fairness and consistency of specific punitive measures?
To answer this question, you need to consider debates about how punishment is framed and delivered. You might explore issues of proportionality, in terms of whether the punishment is an appropriate response to the crime and the perceived threat to society. You might also examine issues concerning whether punishment is incorrectly administered, and in What Do You Think? 28.3 you were asked to consider miscarriages of justice, where people have been wrongly convicted, and what these instances say about the fairness of punitive measures. Your answer may well explore how the fairness of specific punitive measures is viewed through a different lens by various stakeholders (police, victims, politicians) and so this becomes a difficult issue to consider.
5. What are some of the problematic consequences of the use of sanctions such as imprisonment?
This question requires you to consider the impact of punishment, and you might ask the question what does it achieve? Your answer might explore the subjective nature of imprisonment and how it impacts offenders differently. You might also examine how imprisonment is not only disruptive to offenders but also to those around them, for example their family. In asking what prison achieves, you might examine reoffending rates and question whether prison has much impact on these; the evidence suggests that it does not. You may also consider the disproportionate use of prison for black and minority ethnic groups and the further affect that this has on the disadvantage they may experience.