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Punishment is the authoritative imposition of something negative or unpleasant on a person, animal, organization or entity in response to behavior deemed unacceptable by an individual, group or other entity. The authority may be either a group or a single person, and punishment may be carried out formally under a system of law or informally in other kinds of social settings such as within a family. Negative consequences that are not authorized or that are administered without a breach of rules are not considered to be punishment as defined here. The study and practice of the punishment of crimes, particularly as it applies to imprisonment, is called penology, or, often in modern texts, corrections; in this context, the punishment process is euphemistically called "correctional process". Research into punishment often includes similar research into prevention.
Fundamental justifications for punishment include: retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitations such as isolation in order to prevent the wrongdoer's having contact with potential victims. Of the four justifications, only retribution is part of the definition of punishment and none of the other justifications is a guaranteed outcome.
If only some of the conditions included in the definition of punishment are present, descriptions other than "punishment" may be considered more accurate. Inflicting something negative, or unpleasant, on a person or animal, without authority is considered either spite or revenge rather than punishment. In addition, the word "punishment" is used as a metaphor, as when a boxer experiences "punishment" during a fight. In other situations breaking the rules may be rewarded, and is therefore without negative consequences, and so cannot be considered punishment. Finally the condition of breaking (or breaching) the rules must be satisfied to be considered punishment.
Punishments differ in the degree of severity of their unpleasantness, and may include sanctions such as reprimands, deprivations of privileges or liberty, fines, incarcerations, ostracism, the infliction of pain, and the death penalty. Corporal punishment refers to punishments in which pain is intended to be inflicted upon the transgressor. Punishments may be judged as fair or unfair in terms of their degree of reciprocity and proportionality. Punishment can be an integral part of socialization, and punishing unwanted behaviour is often part of a system of pedagogy or behavioral modification which also includes rewards.
Various philosophers have presented definitions of punishment. Conditions commonly considered necessary to properly describe an action as punishment are that
Introduced by B.F. Skinner, punishment has a more restrictive and technical definition. Along with reinforcement it belongs under the Operant Conditioning category. Operant Conditioning refers to learning with either punishment or reinforcement. It is also referred to as response-stimulus conditioning. In psychology, punishment is the reduction of a behavior via application of an adverse stimulus ("positive punishment") or removal of a pleasant stimulus ("negative punishment"). Extra chores or spanking are examples of positive punishment, while making an offending student lose recess or play privileges are examples of negative punishment. The definition requires that punishment is only determined after the fact by the reduction in behavior; if the offending behavior of the subject does not decrease then it is not considered punishment. There is some conflation of punishment and aversives, though an aversive that does not decrease behavior is not considered punishment in psychology.In socio-biology
Punishment is sometimes called retaliatory or moralistic aggression; it has been observed in all species of social animals, leading evolutionary biologists to conclude that it is an evolutionarily stable strategy, selected because it favors cooperative behavior.Scope of application
Punishments are applied for various purposes, most generally, to encourage and enforce proper behavior as defined by society or family. Criminals are punished judicially, by fines, corporal punishment or custodial sentences such as prison; detainees risk further punishments for breaches of internal rules. Children, pupils and other trainees may be punished by their educators or instructors (mainly parents, guardians, or teachers, tutors and coaches) — see Child discipline.
Slaves, domestic and other servants used to be punishable by their masters. Employees can still be subject to a contractual form of fine or demotion. Most hierarchical organizations, such as military and police forces, or even churches, still apply quite rigid internal discipline, even with a judicial system of their own (court martial, canonical courts).
Punishment may also be applied on moral, especially religious, grounds, as in penance (which is voluntary) or imposed in a theocracy with a religious police (as in a strict Islamic state like Iran or under the Taliban) or (though not a true theocracy) by Inquisition.History and rationale Seriousness of a crime; Punishment fits the crime Further information: Felony, Misdemeanor, and Eye for an eye
A principle often mentioned with respect to the degree of punishment to be meted out is that the punishment should match the crime. One standard for measurement is the degree to which a crime affects others or society. Measurements of the degree of seriousness of a crime have been developed. A felony is generally considered to be a crime of "high seriousness", while a misdemeanor is not.Possible reasons for punishment See also: Criminal justice
There are many possible reasons that might be given to justify or explain why someone ought to be punished; here follows a broad outline of typical, possibly conflicting, justifications.Deterrence (prevention)
One reason given to justify punishment is that it is a measure to prevent people from committing an offence - deterring previous offenders from re-offending, and preventing those who may be contemplating an offence they have not committed from actually committing it. This punishment is intended to be sufficient that people would choose not to commit the crime rather than experience the punishment. The aim is to deter everyone in the community from committing offences.Rehabilitation Main article: Rehabilitation (penology)
Some punishment includes work to reform and rehabilitate the wrongdoer so that they will not commit the offence again. This is distinguished from deterrence, in that the goal here is to change the offender's attitude to what they have done, and make them come to see that their behavior was wrong.Incapacitation and societal protection
Incapacitation as a justification of punishment refers to the offender’s ability to commit further offences being removed. Imprisonment separates offenders from the community, removing or reducing their ability to carry out certain crimes. The death penalty does this in a permanent (and irrevocable) way. In some societies, people who stole have been punished by having their hands amputated.Retribution Main article: Retributive justice
Criminal activities typically give a benefit to the offender and a loss to the victim. Punishment has been justified as a measure of retributive justice, in which the goal is to try to rebalance any unjust advantage gained by ensuring that the offender also suffers a loss. Sometimes viewed as a way of "getting even" with a wrongdoer — the suffering of the wrongdoer is seen as a desired goal in itself, even if it has no restorative benefits for the victim. One reason societies have administered punishments is to diminish the perceived need for retaliatory "street justice", blood feud and vigilantism.Restoration Main article: Restorative Justice
Punishment can be explained by positive prevention theory to use the criminal justice system to teach people what are the social norms for what is correct, and acts as a reinforcement.
Punishment can serve as a means for society to publicly express denunciation of an action as being criminal. Besides educating people regarding what is not acceptable behavior, it serves the dual function of preventing vigilante justice by acknowledging public anger, while concurrently deterring future criminal activity by stigmatizing the offender. This is sometimes called the "Expressive Theory" of denunciation. The pillory was a method for carrying out public denunciation.