A crime is an act or an omission that is restricted or commanded by the sovereign a breach of which leads to prosecution and punishment upon conviction. Crime and punishment have been in existence for a very long time. This body of law has however evolved drastically. During the pre-colonial period, crimes and their respective punishments were not well defined. But since then this branch of law has developed tremendously whereby crimes and their respective punishments are well written. Today, when one is charged with a crime, he/she must be given a fair hearing before conviction. The courts are required to show that the convict committed the wrongful act or failed to do something that is commanded by the law, and must also proof that the accused person intended to commit the crime. These two elements of the criminal law are commonly known as the actus reus and the mens rea of a crime. This paper is, therefore, an overview of the evolution of crime and punishment and shows its impact on today’s society.
The main objective of criminal law is to maintain the law and order in the society. To realize harmony and rule in the society, the government needs to provide and execute punishments to the law breakers. The purpose of criminal law and prosecution of offenders is to deter, reform, incapacitate and punish the violators. Human beings have rights that States should guarantee such as the right to life, for example. It is the duty of the State to ensure that it deters, incapacitates and punishes the persons who violate these rights and obligations. Other criminals require the rehabilitation before they could go back to the society. For instance, Pestritto (1996) argues that the modern U.S. society does not concern itself much on the older methods of dealing with crime rather it concerns with the methods that significantly reduce it and are economical. This approach raises the issues of justice and fairness as these approaches may fail to consider the offender. For instance, with such an attitude, if death sentence drastically reduces the crimes and it is economical, that consideration would fail to give the offenders an opportunity to reform and change their behavior. According to Pestritto (1996), the other concerns that the society raises are on the amount of punishment that is required to deter a crime and how much punishment is equivalent to various violations of law.
During the primitive period, an offender did not have much liberty as in the case in the modern society. A huge number of crimes were punishable by death and with few chances of a person to have a free and fair hearing. Today, crimes are punishable by paying fines, serving a prison term and in few jurisdictions, death for the capital offenses such as first-degree murder. Various laws such as the Bill of Rights under the U.S. Federal Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provide the rights that the accused person has which includes the right not to be charged with the same offense twice and right not to give self-incriminating statements.
Cultural diversity influences the society politically, socially and economically. According to Wilkinson and Unwin (1999), prisons with much cultural and ethnic background are most likely to be racist and discriminative. They further argue that multiculturalism doesn’t not only affect the inmates, but also the correctional officers. It reduces their response to crime as one tends to feel attracted to the prisoners of similar cultural background.
In conclusion, as seen in this essay, crime and punishment are of great significant to the stability and harmony of any society. This field of law has evolved from where a crime was not defined and it could be anything including stopping a person’s foot to the modern society where crime is codified properly and its particular punishment is well stipulated. The essay, however, revealed that various factors such as cultural diversity and the public opinion greatly affect the policies and reforms of the criminal justice and correction of the offenders.