A CROSS EXAMINATION OF PRISON ADMINISTRATION AND CRIME PREVENTION IN NIGERIA. A RESEARCH PROJECT MATERIAL ON PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION
- BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
1.1.2 SCOPE OF PUNISHMENT
Almost everyone would agree that hurting someone or subjecting them to pain is wrong. However, punishment, by definition, involves the infliction of pain. Does this make punishment wrong? Philosophers are divided on this issue. One group believes that inflicting pain as punishment is fundamentally different from inflicting pain on innocents, and therefore is not inherently wrong. Another group believes that punishment is a wrong that can be justified only if it results in a “greater good” (Murphy 1995).
The different approach to punishment can be explained thus;
The first philosophical approach (or rationale) is that punishment, strictly defined, is not evil. Retribution is a term that means balancing a wrong through punishment. While revenge is personal and not necessarily proportional to the victim’s injury, retribution is impersonal and balanced. Newman, although recognizing the difficulty of defining punishment, defines it in this way: “Punishment is a pain or other unpleasant consequence that results from an offense against a
rule and that is administered by others, who represent legal authority, to the offender who broke the rule” (Newman 1978, 6–7).
In conclusion, the retributive rationale for punishment holds that because of natural law and the social contract, society has the right to punish, and the criminal has the right to be punished. It is not an evil to be justified, but rather, represents the natural order of things. According to Newman (1978, 287), “There is little grace in punishment. Only justice.”
The utilitarian rationale defines punishment as essentially evil, and seeks to justify it by the greater benefits that result. Under a utilitarian philosophical system, or utilitarianism, what is good is that which benefits “the many.” Thus, even if it were painful to the individual, if the majority benefit from a certain act, then utilitarianism would define that act as good. In our discussion, if punishment did deter or incapacitate or facilitate rehabilitation, then “the many” (all of society) would benefit, and punishment, by definition, would be good. This rationale for punishment is ancient. Plato argued that punishment is a benefit to the person because it improves their souls or characters (cited in Murphy (1995, 17). Under the utilitarian rationale, punishment is evil, but it is justified when punishment accomplishes more good than the evil it represents