Punishment of Prisoners as a Method of Crime Prevention

Crime must be punished, but the methods as to how to punish crime can prove to deliver very different results. Randall Collins says in his book the Sociological Insight that the modern punishment of crime characterized by courtrooms has a ritualistic purpose for the non-deviants of a society rather than for the offenders (1992). Collins is arguing that the action of punishment is reaffirming the norms for non-criminal members of a society (1992). Hence, crime is actually necessary because the punishment of crime maintains solidarity amongst non-deviant members of the society. Criminologist John Braithwaite introduced a different approach to punishment called reintegrative shaming.

The goal of this method is to shame the individual for their deviant acts, but to also allow them back into the community in an attempt to reintegrate their behavior as a non-deviant person. Both theories affirm that crime is wrong, but they diverge in thought when discussing how punishment for the crime can deliver benefit. Braithwaite’s theory for reintegrative shaming is more effective in benefitting all people because it can increase solidarity of the whole society and thus reduce its crime.

While both Braithwaite and Collins’ theories emphasize the importance of the society’s involvement in punishing a deviant, reintegrative shaming is far more successful than Collins’ proposal in creating a whole form of solidarity. Collins suggests that crime is necessary because it brings about the unity of the non-deviants of a society. He writes, “The criminal is an outsider, an object of the ritual, not a member of it” (Collins 1992:111). This line of thought segments a society into deviants and non-deviants, and by severing the connections between members of society, a lack of empathy is created on both sides.

One must recognize that a society includes the deviants within it. Therefore, Collins’ theory can only illustrate a partial solidarity amongst a whole group. The idea behind Braithwaite’s reintegrative shaming is to restore the criminal’s connection with the community that they belong to. In practice, central members of the deviant’s community are brought forward to denounce the crime, but to also accept responsibility in reintegrating them back into society (Giddens et al. 2018). Non-deviants take a role in guiding deviants back towards the community’s standards. This practice promotes a complete solidarity in the society rather than further dividing its members apart.

In Collins’ theory there is a gap in empathy between deviants and non-deviants where crime can occur, but crime itself can be reduced or even eliminated using Braithwaite’s methods. Reintegrative shaming achieves this by reintroducing criminals to empathetic feelings towards the society. An article from Madison.com discusses the implementation of restorative methods in a prison in Wisconsin. Inmates took a class aimed to stimulate more compassion towards others by having them hear from victims. One inmate said, ‘I’d always thought of people as things to control and manipulate.

Now I see them as human beings with emotions and feelings” (Erikson 2010:19). The prevention of continuous acts of crime can be attained by underlining to a deviant individual the effects that their act of crime can have upon others. Having an appreciation for the people within a society will make criminals less likely to want to wrong the society again. Instead, they might choose to reintegrate themselves as non-deviant members. This cannot be achieved in a crime model like Collins’ when such heavy segregation exists between deviants and non-deviants. A person treated as an object used for a function will not feel sympathy towards their oppressors and continue to commit crime.

Crime must be punished in a way that encourages the unity of the whole society. While Collins’ proposal is correct in promoting solidarity, it fails to create a full cohesion with criminals and non-criminals alike. Braithwaite’s theory of crime is so effective because it treats deviants like real members of a society and less like outcasts to be made an example of. Reintegrative shaming can punish but also reconnect a criminal back into their community. Thus, this method is the best course of action for a society’s future health because it increases solidarity which in turn reduces crime.

Works Cited

  1. Collins, Randall. 1992. Sociological Insight: An Introduction to Non-Obvious Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.
  2. Erickson, Doug. 2010. “At This Prison Graduation, the Focus Is on Knowing the Effects of Their Crimes.” Madison.com. Retrieved November 1, 2018 (https://madison.com/news/local/crime_and_courts/at-this-prison-graduation-the-focus-is-on-knowing-the/article_8e99eef6-6204-11df-9f92-001cc4c03286.html).
  3. Giddens, Anthony, Richard Appelbaum, Mitchell Duneier, and Deborah Carr. 2018. Introduction to Sociology. 11th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.