Critique of Utilitarianism
If utilitarian justifications of punishment were sound, then one would expect to find certain conditions met by those who are punished. Looking specifically at imprisonment, one would conclude that the people in our prisons are dangerous or have a long criminal record (and are therefore in need of capacitation), that the amount of recidivism is low (as offenders will have been deterred from committing future crimes) and that there will be programs for rehabilitation and opportunities for reform in place.
However a NSW Prison Report found that:
- 13% of inmates have an intellectual disability
- at the point of sentencing, indigenous persons are sentenced to imprisonment at about 10 times the rate expected given their relative population size
- of the above, 50% of crimes fell into theft, driving or offences against justice
- 50% of offences resulting in imprisonment over 58% were for non-violent crimes
- 14,154 (37%) out of a total of 38,626 persons who spent some time in full custody between June 1995 and June 1999, have been to prison at least once before, and almost half of those (18%) have been at least twice.
- “the majority of prisoners who pass through the system serve sentences of less than 6 months and are in minimum security or serving periodic detention.
From these and other statistics, researchers and Mann, 1995] have suggested utilitarian justifications cannot be overwhelming assumed from the studied data. One conclusion that can and is often drawn from prison statistics, however is that:
- Whatever regional and national differences there might be in opinions about which offences deserve custody, the poor, the disturbed, the migrant, disadvantaged ethnic minorities are consistently over-penalised and over-imprisoned.
What then is the reason that we imprison these people? Utilitarianists have no answer.
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