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Utilitarianism and Punishment

There are a number of competing views of punishment and how it should be doled out. Utilitarianism is one of the two main views and is less popular than the other view. The basic principle of utilitarianism is that the justification for punishment lies in the useful purpose punishment serves.

Utilitarianism looks to prevent future crimes from being committed by utilizing specific deterrence and general deterrence. Specific deterrence is achieved by preventing an individual from committing more crimes. An individual that is confined to a jail or prison is unable to commit more crimes. General deterrence looks to prevent other people from committing crimes.

It is thought that if individuals see the punishment given to an individual for committing a crime, the person who has not committed a crime will be less inclined to commit a crime in the future. This thought has not proven to be as effective. Typically, increasing the odds of being caught is a more effective way of reducing crime than is increasing the term of punishment.

While retributivism is designed to punish an individual because he or she did something wrong, utilitarianism punishes people when there is some social benefit to it. For example, if punishing a person will not accomplish anything or provide any social utility, it is not worth it to punish the person.

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