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Sample Research Essay on Theories of Criminal Justice

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4 pages, 3 sources

The dilemma of adequate punishment for the committed crime is as old as the hills. Today, when the "eye for an eye" concept isn't applied in civilized societies, the question about outcomes the punishment should have added to the subject matter. The criminal justice essay sample below attempts to classify existing theories and explain why one is better than the others. If you need to craft a law research paper or an essay about criminal justice, this sample should be of great help in your endeavors.

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Theories of Criminal Justice

Theories of criminal justice are increasingly important for policymakers and citizens. They attempt to justify the punishment of offenders and also the death penalty. According to Brooks, there are seven theories of punishment that can be divided into general and hybrid theories. The general theories are restorative, rehabilitative, retributive, and deterrence, while hybrid theories are unified, expressivist, and mixed theories.


Retributivism aligns well with my belief system. The theory asserts that offenders deserve punishment equal to the severity of the wrongdoing committed (Brooks, 2012). It is backward-looking. That is, people are punished because of the past offense but not what might happen in the future. The past actions justify punishment regardless of the consequences. The theory is based on moral responsibility, which implies that offenders must be held accountable for their actions, for justice is only served when they are punished, but it is an injustice to allow them to walk freely from the crimes.

The punishment philosophy prevents crimes and reinforces the criminal justice system's effectiveness as it gives satisfaction that an offender has received appropriate punishment. It is comparable to practices such as imposing fines and sentencing, which have effectively changed societal behavior. Also, the theory eradicates the unfair advantage that offenders possess after crime by guaranteeing a punishment equal to the offense's gravity. By punishing wrongdoers, society learns the significance and the repercussions underlying evil offenses. Somehow, the punishment represents the intensity of pain victims suffered. Hence, inflicting it serves to pronounce immorality of action, thus reducing crime and promoting citizens' safety.

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Rehabilitation theory is the most flawed theory. The approach describes punishment as a way of treating and training an offender to return to society as reformed and responsible individuals (Brooks, 2012). As a result, offenders, including murderers, get lenient punishment compared to other punishment philosophies such as deterrence or redistribution. Proponents of the theory oppose the death penalty because they believe that the offenders are capable of reforming. Besides, others argue that the major role of punishment is behavioral change. However, the theory is ineffective for individuals who cannot undergo rehabilitation.

The theory assumes that the causes of criminal behaviors are external factors such as social surroundings, genetic composition, or psychological development, which is not true. Individual differences do not determine the likelihood of breaking the law. Committing a crime is a free will and a rational choice that is dependent on any external factor. Therefore, correctional facilities do little to fix or change incarcerated individuals. While some ex-convicts return to society as reproductive and reformed people, the majority are likely to re-offend. They return to crime and often escalate the severity of their offenses. The high recidivism rates can be attributed to the ill-conceived and poorly executed rehabilitation efforts.

Unified Theory

The unified theory is new and confusing. It argues that human rights are merely freedoms enshrined in the constitution, while crimes are considered as threats that should be punished. Brooks believes that punishment is a means of protecting rights and reducing crimes (Brooks, 2012). The theory consolidates multiple penal goals into one approach. That is, it combines the advantages of other theories while combating their perceived negative effects. The author offers an excellent defense of the unified theory because it is more adaptable than other theories. However, it fails to justify punishment as a response to a violation of the law.

The theory is confusing because of its concept of a stakeholder society. Brooks thinks every person is responsible in the current and future political community and that capital punishment should be rejected because it denies the stakeholder responsibility. Here, the key stakeholders are society, offenders, and victims; hence, executing murderers eliminates them permanently from society. As a result, the theory suggests restorative punishment for offenders because it makes them see their responsibility in the community. Although the theory is greatly concerned with the ethics and humane vision of punishment, which can significantly improve the legal system, it cannot reduce crime. It only criticizes punishment but does not offer an effective alternative for justice.

Importance of learning the theories

Learning the different theories has enlightened me on the various forms of punishment. In criminal justice, the immediate consequence of the commission of a crime is punishment. Offenders can be subjected to different kinds of treatment depending on the nature of the crime. For example, I now understand that the restorative theory can be applied to burglary, harassment, and assaults. Simultaneously, serious offenses like treason or murder, where an offender is less susceptible to restoration, require deterrence or retributivism (Brooks, 2012). Based on the various theories, the criminal justice system can decide any form of punishment as per the unique needs of an offender and society.

The different theories provide useful tools for understanding the contradictory views of criminal activities and improving the legal system. While some theories favor capital punishment, others oppose it because it is inhumane. These varied views help policymakers and citizens in deciding the effectiveness and acceptance of the death penalty. As well, I have gained some insights on ways the criminal justice can be improved. The unified theory proposes flexibility in the punishment of offenders. It promotes restorative justice as a standard form of punishment (Brooks, 2012). Therefore, criminal justice can be redesigned to improve its rehabilitative potential and lower recidivism rates.

Earl Warren

Earl Warren was the 14th U.S chief justice. Before joining the Supreme Court, he was a politician and a long-serving governor of California. Warren presided over landmark judicial rulings in criminal procedures, legislative apportionment, and racial relations.


Warren was born in 1891 in Los Angeles (Biography of Earl Warren, 2020). He graduated from the University of California's School of Law in 1912. After that, Warren continuously practiced law, developing a reputation for fighting crimes that ranged from vandalism to murder until his retirement. He died in 1974.

Criminal justice theory

Warren supported retribution theory, which, according to Brooks, 'punishes criminals for the wrongful acts they performed' (Brooks, 2012). He endorsed the concept of proportionality, where offenders were punished according to the severity of the wrongdoing committed. Based on the theory, justice is only served by punishing the guilty. Offenders must be accountable for their actions, and people in authority must ensure they receive whatever punishment they deserve.

Why the Retribution theory?

As a district attorney, he saw a successful conviction of county sheriff because of corruption charges. Warren outlawed racial segregation in schools and also made the one-man-one-vote ruling, which transferred legislative power to the cities which were more populated than the rural areas (Walsh, 2011). During his entire tenure, his rulings were never reversed despite being accused of high-handedness. Besides, his appointment to head a commission on the inquiry of the assassination of President John Kennedy demonstrates retribution theory. He believed in punishing offenders according to crimes committed. Having him lead the commission meant that the murderer was to be held morally responsible.


  1. Brooks, T. (2012). Punishment. Routledge.
  2. Walsh, C. (2011). Erasing Race, Dismissing Class: San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez. Berkeley La Raza LJ, 21, 133.
  3. Biography of Earl Warren. (). UCSanDiego Retrieved April 17, 2020, from
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