By Lawrence M. Friedman
In a breathtaking heritage of our legal justice approach from Colonial instances to this present day, considered one of our most excellent felony thinkers exhibits how the United States shaped a approach of crime and punishment in its personal snapshot.
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Additional resources for Crime and Punishment in American History
It centralizes and socializes the punishment function; it supplements private punishment (ostracism, hitting, scolding). It acts as a substitute for private violence—for blood feuds and vengeance, for a dog-eat-dog society. In general, we do not let people “take the law into their own hands,” although this idea still has romantic appeal. How well the system works, how effective it is, is another question. There is another, more subtle, function of criminal justice: symbolic, ideological, hortatory.
But they have an obvious relationship. American history is, in a way, a history of more and more freedom. I say this not to celebrate this country, only to describe it. ” They were little theocracies. They were free in certain senses, but they were also rigidly bound up in notions of hierarchy; leaders of the community believed deeply in a God-given, natural order or chain of command. A powerful, self-conscious religious ethos prescribed people’s places in that order. Revolution broke the ties to England, and gave the country political freedom.
Yet some societies (it is said) allow members to eat human flesh. 7 No other norms, alas, seem quite so self-enforcing. Many need help from criminal justice. The help comes in the form of sanctions-rewards and punishments. The punishments are especially obvious. The burglar goes to prison. Embezzlers pay heavy fines. In a few extreme cases, people die in the electric chair or the gas chamber. Punishments are a common, obvious element in our lives; we take punishment for granted. Parents punish children by yelling, scolding, spanking, taking away candy or toys, “grounding,” revoking privileges.