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Why Do We Punish?


Lucifer is almost back!

I love that show… no, I’m addicted to that show.

If you don’t watch it, you should. He’s hot, he’s funny and he solves crimes, ’nuff said.

The premise is the devil quit his job as lord of Hell, moves to LA, and starts helping police solve crimes and punish bad guys.

In season 2, he’s asked why he does this. Why does he still punish, especially considering he left the job assigned to him to do just that?

He can’t answer it. Until the end of the episode.

He does it because, as he put it, “I like giving people their due.”

That’s all well and good for an angel who has the divine duty to punish, but what about in the real world?

Why do we punish?

When your kid lies, steals candy off the shelves, punches another kid, sticks a fork in an electrical socket, what do you do?

You punish them.


So they won’t do it again!

We punish to correct behavior.

OR, if it’s more extreme, we punish so they can’t do it again.

Whenever I hear someone was sexually abused as a child, I’m furious.

And I want to punish the abuser.

I don’t mean put them in jail and then on a list for the rest of their lives, I mean, tie them up and torture them until I get bored and then shoot them.

So why? Why do I feel that way? Killing them so they can never do it again makes sense, but what about torture?

Because I want to “even the scales,” basically, make sure they suffer like what they’ve put out there.

(I’m starting to understand why I love the show Lucifer so much.)

Does balancing the scales do anything? Maybe cosmically, I don’t know, but most of us hope so. We tell ourselves there’s karma or they’ll be judged by God or whatever your belief system is. So we know we want a sense of fairness in the world, but why?

Think about it on a larger scale. If there’s punishment, if there’s something evening the scales, and everybody knows that, thennnnnn…

Then they won’t do it in the first place!

This is the deterrence theory of criminal justice. If we have punishments, and we use them, then the person thinking about doing the bad thing won’t do it.

Hence me not pulling a Dexter on kiddie rapists.

We’ve touched on the three main theories of criminal justice. You have punishments on a societal level as deterrence, you have killing them or permanent incarceration as incapacitation so they can’t do it again, and you have retribution, the punishing of that specific person to even the scales.

We’ve incorporated those into our criminal justice system, trying to correct bad behavior, trying to protect the innocent, trying to limit the fallout of bad behavior by keeping it from happening in the first place.

What about when you punish someone on the personal level?

Same thing. When someone wrongs you. You want to even the scales. You want to warn people so they can’t do it again since people will know they do that. And you want to make sure they have learned their lesson, and do not do it again.

When it turns out the person, company, whatever, has not learned their lesson, we usually increase the punishment.

This is why there’s harsher punishments for a second or third offense.

Because the last time, the punishment wasn’t enough to keep them from doing that.

But if it’s personal, and it’s not you trying to protect your kid from themselves (the seriously, sweetie, you stick the fork in the socket one more time, I’m going to let you electrocute yourself because I’m pretty sure that’s the only way you’re going to learn), then why do you punish?

When you find yourself punishing on a personal level, ask yourself why. It could be something as simple as you want to get the person’s attention and hurting them is the best way to do it. It could be you want to get even, warn others, or make sure they don’t do it again.

But you have to figure that out. And then, once you do, figure out what to do with yourself so you don’t turn into the very thing that wronged you.

Happy writing and good mental health 🙂

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