Society’s Ways of Dealing with Deviance

This is a pretty generic paper I wrote last night for one of my sociology courses that I’m taking at my com­munity college this summer to get transfer credit for my university. The prompt was to write about the different types of methods for dealing with deviance, and to discuss how each strategy represents how society views criminals and deviance.

Like it or not, crime is a part of our society, and as a result, society must react to crime. There are a variety of different ways of dealing with the individuals who choose to commit crimes; these methods reflect how members of a particular society view crime and criminals. There are four basic different ways that a society can react: deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, and rehabili­tation.

Deterrence, or more commonly known as punishment, is providing a negative consequence to a particular deviant action to discourage people from doing the deviant action. Members of society who support deterrence believe that people will not commit a crime if the punishment is too great. As long as the benefit of committing the crime is less than the harm done by suffering the punishment, people will opt to take the better route (which is to not commit the crime). This method of dealing with criminal behavior assumes that there is an easy and concrete way to measure the costs and benefits of crimes and punishments, when in fact it is actually quite abstract and difficult to do. On top of that, not all people might make these rational comparisons as expected by the society; people who are not emotionally sensitive to these punishments might not abide by the system as society plans.

Retribution, better known classically as the “eye for an eye” concept, is the idea that when someone hurts someone else in some way, the victim has the right to hurt the attacker in return via the same method. Expanding off the classical term, if a man were to stab another man’s eye and turn him blind, the blind man would then have the right to stab the original stabber in his eye, thus turning him blind as well. This encourages people to only do actions that they would be comfortable having others to do them as well. Societies that support retribution believe that all people are equal, and when one person commits a crime, the society should be able to get even with the criminal. Unfortunately, this method of crime control only encourages further violence or crime, and doesn’t take into consideration the fact that the particular action itself is still a crime, regardless of if it is being done as an assault or as revenge. This form of punishment is also very inflexible, as one’s punishment is defined distinctly by one’s actions. It leaves out the important aspect of motivation behind one’s actions; someone who commits a crime intentionally receives the same punishment as one who commits the same crime accidentally, or as a side effect of good intentions.

Incapacitation is best known in modern society as placing people in jail or prison. The idea behind this method of reacting to crime is to protect the rest of society by preventing the criminal from committing more crimes. Societies that believe in incapacitation believe that criminals are outliers in their community, and as a result, it should be designated in a physical manner by separating their existence from the rest of the people. A clear problem of incapacitation, as seen by research and statistics, is that those who are incapacitated once are usually incapacitated again in the future as a result of committing more crimes. Thus, while they are incapacitated, many people do not change their way of life; once they are reintroduced into the society, they return to their old ways, and for many criminals, society’s method of crime control ends up not accomplishing anything.

Rehabilitation has been increasingly supported recently and can be broken down as a moral and ethical school for criminals. When individuals commit crimes, they enter a program where their goal is to understand why their behavior is deviant. Societies that support rehabilitation view criminals as human beings who are still worthy of living with everyone else in a society, but need to be temporarily separated while they learn what is acceptable and what is not. The main goal of rehabilitation is to change criminals such that when they reenter the community from which they came, they live a life that follows all the society’s norms and laws, and no longer engage in deviant behavior. Although, by definition, this is the most humane method of crime control, it still has its problems—individuals who are persistent in remaining criminals will not benefit from this program, as an internal motivation and desire to change one’s self is very important during rehabilitation.

In summary, as society evolves, the methods of dealing with criminal behavior evolve with it. A variety of different methods has been developed and is being used, but there is no single strategy that is better than the others. Rather, instances of crime should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis, and proper reactionary measures should be taken in a specialized manner, rather than applying a generalized society view or theme on all crimes and possibly not providing some criminals the consequences or treatment that would work best for them.