Just Sociology

Exploring Criminology: Theories Punishment and Surveillance

Punishment is a fundamental concept of modern societies, used to maintain order and justice in the society. However, the justifications for punishment have been the subject of much debate among scholars and policymakers.

There are several theories that try to explain the main reasons for punishment. In this article, we will delve into two main topics of discussion.

The first topic is the justifications for punishment, which includes subtopics such as crime reduction and retribution. The second topic is restorative justice, which includes subtopics such as left realism and research evidence.

We will analyze these topics to understand them better and their respective subtopics.

1) Justifications for Punishment

Punishment is justified for a variety of reasons, which are mainly divided into two categories: instrumental and expressive. Instrumental justifications of punishment seek to protect society from crime, whereas expressive justifications aim to express societal condemnation of criminal behavior.

There are several subtopics under instrumental and expressive justifications for punishment. 1.1. Crime Reduction

The instrumental justification for punishment includes deterrence, rehabilitation, and incapacitation.

Deterrence is a type of punishment that seeks to prevent future crimes by making potential offenders fear the repercussions of their actions. This type of punishment can either be specific (punishing an individual for a specific crime they committed) or general (punishing an individual to deter other individuals from committing similar crimes).

Rehabilitation is a form of punishment that seeks to reform an offender, allowing them to return to society as a productive citizen. Incapacitation, on the other hand, aims to keep offenders away from society by incarcerating them, thereby reducing the chances of recidivism.

1.2. Retribution

Retribution is an expressive justification for punishment that aims to restore justice by making the offender pay for their crimes. It is often said that justice is about giving people what they deserve.

In this context, retribution is about giving offenders what they deserve in terms of punishment for their crimes. Expressive punishment aims to show that society condemns the behavior of the offender in the hope that it deters future criminal activity.

2) Restorative Justice

Restorative justice is a recent development in penal policy intending to prioritize repairing the harm caused to victims and communities by crime. It seeks to encourage offenders to interpret the harm caused and take responsibility for the activities that led to it.

It emphasizes offender accountability, reparation, and restoration of relationships between victims, offenders, and members of the community. 2.1. Left Realism

Left realism is a political and criminological perspective that focuses on the underlying cause of crime and how to address it.

Restorative justice is a key component of left realism. Reparation, mediation, reintegrative shaming and family conferencing are some of the strategies used by restorative justice.

Reparation involves offenders compensating victims for the harm caused. Mediation instills a system of dialogue between the victim and offender to create an effective agreement between the two.

Reintegrative shaming aims to shame offenders in a constructive manner that restores social harmony. Family conferencing is a process whereby the victim, the offender, and members of their respective families are brought together to discuss the harm caused, and how to address it collectively.

2.2. Research Evidence

Randomized control trials carried out by the Home Office have confirmed the effectiveness of restorative justice in reducing recidivism. Recidivism is the likelihood of a previous offender becoming a repeat offender, and it is the key measure of criminal rehabilitation.

The trials, carried out between 2001-2016, demonstrated that restorative justice can reduce recidivism by up to around 14% when compared to traditional justice methods such as imprisonment. The evidence suggests that the recent move towards restorative justice in criminal proceedings should be supported by policymakers and practitioners.


Punishment and restorative justice are vital aspects of penal policy. As we have seen in this article, there are different theories on the justifications for punishment, and restorative justice offers a unique approach to addressing the harm caused by crime beyond imprisonment.

To make the criminal justice system more effective, policymakers and practitioners must take the research evidence seriously and prioritize the use of restorative justice when dealing with criminal offenders. It is essential to understand that punishment should not only offer adequate retribution for the offender, but it should also seek to reduce the risk of repetition and restore the lost harmony between the victims, offenders, and the community.Marxism, Technologies of Surveillance, and Punishment are the three interconnected topics that have been studied in the field of criminology over the years.

Marxian criminology argues that the capitalist system creates conditions that lead to inequalities and poverty, which in turn, create crime. Technologies of surveillance include various digital and physical tools that aid in the monitoring of behavior, and Foucault’s Disciplinary Power Theory explains how these technologies are utilized to maintain social order.

Finally, the Punitive State theory argues that the state operates as an institution of punishment, reinforcing power relations in society. In this article, we will explore the topics of Marxism and Technologies of Surveillance, with a focus on their associated subtopics.

3) Marxism

Marxian criminology is the theory that explains crime as the outcome of structural and economic inequalities. Marx argued that the capitalist mode of production creates conditions where workers are in conflict with the capitalist class.

This conflict, according to Marxian criminology, results from class, gender, and race-based inequalities, leading to criminal behavior in society. There are several subtopics under Marxism that explain its ramifications for criminology.

3.1. Capitalist System and Prisons

The capitalist system creates conditions of inequality, which impact the lower classes disproportionately, leading to mass impoverishment and consequently, poverty. These conditions then lead to the higher levels of criminal behavior in society.

The incarceration of individuals from these communities often leads to increased social stigma and reduced opportunities for rehabilitation, further entrenching power relations, and reinforcing an established social order. Thus, the capitalist system is often seen as one of the significant causes of mass incarceration.

3.2. Labeling Theory and Total Institutions

The labeling theory is another prominent aspect of Marxian criminology. It is a theory that explains the effects of the criminal justice system on an individual.

The theory suggests that once a person is labeled as a criminal, there is a reduction of social opportunities and grants for their personal freedoms. Therefore, the individual is forced to conform to a new identity, leading to stigmatization, which thereby encourages criminal behavior.

These institutions of punishment, according to Marxian criminology, are total institutions, impacting the individual’s sense of self and subjecting them to mortification of the self.

4) Technologies of Surveillance

The advancements in technology have given societies access to various tools that can monitor and track individual behavior. This technology has enabled greater efficientity in the collection and utilization of data, influencing social behavior to varying degrees.

4.1. Foucault’s Disciplinary Power

Foucault’s Disciplinary Power theory suggests that in the modernization of societies, there has been a shift from the sovereign power, which attaches the bodies of subjects to the law, towards disciplinary power. This disciplinary power is exercised through the use of technologies of surveillance, behavioral modification, and disciplinary techniques applied by various institutions.

The prison is a prime example of an institution applying disciplinary power to achieve social control. 4.2. Punitive State and Culture of Control

Punitive State theory argues that there has been a shift from welfare state towards a more punitive state.

This shift is blamed on the rise of neoliberalism and the belief that individuals bear personal responsibility for their actions. The Punitive State operates through various techniques such as penal welfareism, mass incarceration, and actuarialism to maintain power relations in society.

Penal welfareism is a term used to describe how punishment and welfare have become interwoven. The policy aims to reform offenders and turn them into productive members of society in theory.

Actuarialism, on the other hand, involves data analysis to predict the likelihood of criminal behavior in a population, thereby allowing law enforcement to allocate resources more efficiently.


The integration of Marxism, Technologies of Surveillance and Punishment theories offer insightful perspectives on the social organization and control of society. The implications of mass incarceration and its impact on the lower classes, labeling theory, and total institutions, and the monitoring of individual behavior through disciplinary technologies provide critical insights into the relationship between punishment and inequality.

The Foucaultian theory of disciplinary power and punitive state theory further explains how power relations can significantly impact social control in modern societies. Together, these theories emphasize the need to be mindful of how punitive justice practices and surveillance technologies operate within existing societal structures and reinforce the established power structure.The study of criminology is centered around various theories that aim to explain criminal behavior, societal organization, and the impact of punishment on society.

These theories provide insights into the complexities of the social structure and the ways in which it creates inequalities and injustice. However, all theories are not created equal, and evaluating them is essential to understanding their suitability and implications for social control.

In this article, we will explore the various subtopics associated with the Evaluation of Theories.

5) Evaluation of Theories

Theories in criminology offer a framework to understand how society produces crime and how punishments for those crimes are administered. However, all theories contain political assumptions, as crime control is inherently political.

The political nature of crime control can create ramifications leading to the policies that are implemented. Therefore, it is imperative to evaluate theories in terms of their political nature.

5.1. Importance of Political Nature of Crime Control

The political nature of crime control has led to the increase in prison populations, leading to the creation of a transcarceration system. It is a system where aspects of punishment and policing are extended throughout the community.

The political nature of crime control has led to policy implementations such as broken windows policing, which suggests that minor crimes lead to major crimes, leading to aggressive policing. Evaluating theories in the context of the political nature of crime control enables critics to understand how the policies are implemented, their objectives, and their impact on society.

5.2. Cynicism of Political Agenda

Critics of theories argue that the underlying causes of crime are not being addressed as there is a cynicism of political agenda, which often leads to the creation of policies that do not reflect the needs of society. For example, critics of labeling theory argue that labeling criminals is a self-fulfilling prophecy and does not address the underlying causes of crime, such as poverty or inequality.

The political nature of crime control means that theories must be evaluated in light of the wider political goals set by the society. 5.3. Foucault’s Critique

Foucaults critique of theories of social control adds to the evaluation of theories.

He observed that theories predominantly focus on the control of crime from a perspective that confines the scope of social control to the criminal justice system. However, Foucault argued that there were other agencies of social control such as education, healthcare, and the media.

These agencies, according to Foucault, reinforce power relations and maintain social order. Foucaults critique seeks to evaluate theories in terms of the wider societal context and their relationship with other forms of social control.


The evaluation of theories is crucial in understanding the complexities of societal control and the implementation of policies. The political nature of crime control, the cynicism of political agendas, and Foucaults critique, all offer insights into the limitations and shortcomings of theories of criminology.

It is important to evaluate theories with regards to their implications for social control and how their objectives align with the greater ideologies of society. Through a critical lens, evaluation allows for the development of effective policies that address the inequalities that exist within society, and the impact of such policies on the individuals within it.

In conclusion, this article explored several interconnected aspects of criminology, including the justifications for punishment, restorative justice, Marxism, technologies of surveillance, and the evaluation of theories. We have seen that societal power relations, political agendas, and the impact of punishment can have far-reaching implications for individuals and society.

It is essential to evaluate the theories with these factors in mind to develop effective policies and transformative change that addresses the underlying causes of crime and their impact. By implementing policies that address these issues, we can work towards creating a more equitable and just society.


1) What is the capitalist system, and how does it relate to mass incarceration? The capitalist system is a mode of production that creates conditions of inequality, which impacts the lower classes disproportionately, leading to mass impoverishment and therefore, poverty.

These conditions then lead to higher levels of criminal behavior and the subsequent mass incarceration of individuals and further social stigma. 2) What is the restorative justice approach?

Restorative justice is an approach towards justice that involves repairing the harm done to victims and communities by crime. It encourages offenders to take responsibility for their actions, seeks to restore the victim, the offender, and broader community to a sense of wholeness, and is subject to left realist and research evidence.

3) What is Foucaults critique of theories of social control? Foucaults critique of theories of social control argues that societal control is much more expansive than merely the criminal justice system, including education, healthcare, and the media, among various other forms.

It adds the evaluation of theories in terms of the wider societal context and their relationship with other forms of social control reliability. 4) How essential is it to evaluate theories upon their political nature of crime control?

Evaluating theories in the context of the political nature of crime control is imperative, as it enables critics to understand how policies are implemented and their objectives and their impact on society. 5) How can punitive justice practices and surveillance technologies operate within existing societal structures and reinforce the established power structure?

Punitive justice practices and surveillance technologies operate through disciplinary power, penal welfareism, and actuarialism, which reinforce the established power structure within a society. They can be particularly disadvantageous to people living in poverty or from marginalized communities, leading to stigmatization and limited opportunities.

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