30-06-2008 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 870, by Amedeo Cottino
First, the paper deals with the current idea that punishment – conceived as the loss of liberty – has an effect in preventing unlawful behaviour. It shows that, in general, sanctions have a poor individual preventive effect and that general prevention depends on a variety of factors. The second question is that of the feasibility of non-stigmatizing ways to cope with crime. The authos looks at two examples borrowed from legal anthropology which seem to indicate that viable alternatives exist.
This paper raises two main questions. The first concerns the current idea that punishment – conceived as the loss of liberty – has an effect in preventing unlawful behaviour. It can in fact be shown that, in general, sanctions have a poor individual preventive effect. As to general prevention, punishment may be expected to have a deterrent effect when the unlawful behaviour is the result of a rational decision, that is, a decision based on a cost–benefit analysis. However, a wide variety of factors, from group support to situational and systemic factors, may very well counteract the threatening effect of the sanction. The second question concerns the feasibility of nonstigmatizing ways to cope with crime. The few examples borrowed from legal anthropology seem to indicate that viable alternatives exist. But the transfer of a non-Western, indigenous problem-solving process to culturally different contexts is problematic and should be carried out with extreme caution.