Reassessing the Purpose of Punishment: The Roles of Mercy and Victim-involvement in Criminal Proceedings




Glen A. Ishoy

Criminal Justice Ethics

10 Apr 2014



While many possible goals could be achieved by punishing offenders, the reality of punishment in today's criminal justice system is that lawmakers have created the illusion of purpose in punishment when in fact the expectations are unrealistic and the options for punishment too few to expect the simultaneous accomplishment of all possible desirable goals. This lack of clear purpose has led to a punishment policy shaped largely by what some scholars refer to as “paranoid politicians,” who have used public fear of crime as a fulcrum to launch “tough on crime” policies. Over a long period of time, this process has created a punishment system that many scholars argue has become too harsh and exceeds what a system of just deserts would allow for. This outcome has led some to propose that systematic mercy be implemented where appropriate, in order to offset the perceived harshness of the criminal justice system. While such a proposal is problematic, a re-evaluation of punishment policy seems appropriate. This paper suggests that any re-evaluation of punishment policy should include provisions for a broader consideration of victims' issues in sentencing as an integral part of the implementation of punishment in a truly just system.