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The issue of punishment and its purpose has long been a matter of criminological and justice debates. The current state of criminal justice slowly shifts away from punishment in its traditional form towards rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. Rehabilitation has become one of the definitive features of criminal justice development in the modern world. Rehabilitation is believed to have the potential to alleviate the burden of crime and reduce recidivism in society. Unfortunately, the most important aspects of crime, its roots, and possible causes are persistently disregarded. Social theories of crime provide only partial answers to the questions pertaining to the nature and origins of crime. In this context, the article by Paolo Stella (2001) holds a promise to expand public understanding of today’s crime and punishment philosophies.
Stella’s (2001) article provides a curious insight into the current criminal policy and proposes a new vision of crime and punishment. Stella (2001) claims that the primary intent of his writing is “an introduction to a new, criminal policy, the retrieval and development of the ideas of society’s co-responsibility in the origins of crime, of the meaning of the ethical unity of life and fraternity” (p.56). This being said, the researcher begins his discussion with the issue of society’s co-responsibility for crime. Stella (2001) is convinced that the issue of society’s co-responsibility in the origins of crime deserves special attention. The fact is that crime is not merely an act committed by an individual and a matter of individual punishment; rather, crime is always a complex product of multiple social forces that exposes the existing misbalances and shortcomings inherent in this particular society (Stella, 2001). Crime is not the way of individual being; it is a state of collective being in the Society (Stella, 2001). This is particularly the case of adolescent crimes. Young people are extremely susceptible to the major social influences, and their destructiveness is caused by external interferences suffered during active growth (Stella, 2001). In Stella’s (2001) view, all these assumptions justify the importance of society’s co-responsibility for crime.
Another important reason why society is co-responsible for crimes is because criminal law is actually a logical extension of numerous social policies (Stella, 2001). More specifically, Stella (2001) writes that criminal law and punishment is intended to address the inconsistencies produced by misbalanced social policies. Crime suggests that the social policy has failed to fulfill its mission and, according to Stella (2001), the society’s task is to offer structural and behavioral conditions fostering the major consent around the principal values of the judicial system. The idealistic roots of this philosophy should not be disregarded, and Stella (2001) recognizes that criminal rehabilitation should be directed not merely at criminals but also towards the rest of society. There should be no distinction between society and individuals, and one of the principal challenges faced by societies and their criminal justice systems is overcoming the sense of idealism and achieving the sense of fraternity (Stella, 2001). Stella (2001) implies that criminal justice and punishment can contribute to the sense of collectivism in any given society.
Stella (2001) then proceeds to the distinction between the role and purpose of punishment. The researcher claims that the Italian system of justice does not provide any explicit definition of the purpose of punishment, which leaves judges and criminal justice professionals free to define whether punishment is about general prevention, retribution, or rehabilitation (Stella, 2001). The situation with the role of punishment is no better, as the Italian legal theory offers no clarity in distinguishing the purpose of punishment from its role (Stella, 2001). Stella (2001) writes that the role of punishment is essentially about action, whereas the purpose of punishment is the ultimate objective pursued by criminal justice systems. Stella (2001) suggests that, although rehabilitation is widely acknowledged as an important aspect of criminal justice, in reality, punishment pushes rehabilitation priorities to the background. More often than not, the purpose of punishment is to threaten individuals and keep them from committing a crime (Stella, 2001). It is a force of general prevention that should dissuade others from committing the same crime (Stella, 2001). Unfortunately, where correction and threat come into play, there is no place for rehabilitation: Stella (2001) asserts that retribution and correction are incompatible. They cannot create a synthesis but turn the whole system of criminal justice into a mess (Stella, 2001). Yet, even this confusion is not as tragic as the absence of a clear direction in the Italian system of criminal justice: according to Stella (2001), “one of the greatest defects is the inability to determine a clear and precise line of action to follow, thereby often causing energy to be wasted” (p.62).
Stella (2001) further moves to the discussion of the purpose of punishment in a society that does not want to humiliate its citizens. Solving this problem is crucial for all societies that seek to endow with positive characteristics. A good society is that which can punish offenders, even those who commit the worst acts of crime, without humiliating them (Stella, 2001). However, modern societies tend to take offenders out of public scrutiny and, as a result, subject them to humiliation through indifference to their sufferings (Stella, 2001). Thus, as Stella (2001) writes, what matters is the way punishment is administered, since punishment by itself sends a profound message of attention and caring for the offender. The lack of punishment, by contrast, sends the message of indifference that leads to the escalation of violence (Stella, 2001). This is how Stella (2001) tries to justify the relevance of rehabilitation as an instrument of making judgments. Rehabilitative criminal justice makes a caring judgment that preserves the offender’s dignity and treats the offender as a member of society: Stella (2001) also mentions the two laws that were introduced in Italy to replace outdated authoritative models of state-citizen relationships and introduce a new form of equality-type relations that would give citizens more power of participation and decision making.
Finally, Stella (2001) discusses the relationship between society’s demand for criminal justice defense and the offender’s right for rehabilitation. Italian law has been characterized by a long-standing conflict between the society’s demand to punish the offender and the offender’s right to avoid humiliation (Stella, 2001). Today, any developed judicial system relies on the premise that individual rights should be balanced with the social defense requirements (Stella, 2001). This is probably why Stella (2001) compares modern criminal justice systems to a sailing boat that should avoid running into the two different rocks, one represented by the rehabilitation requirements and the other one represented by social defense principles. All this is extremely relevant for the young criminals, who are extremely susceptible to external social influences and cannot always control their criminal urges (Stella, 2001). Finally, Stella (2001) concludes that criminal justice systems should be designed in ways that favor criminals and their interests.
The significance of Stella’s article can hardly be overstated. All modern systems of criminal justice are torn between different priorities and obligations. On the one hand, criminal justice systems are becoming more humanitarian and less humiliating. On the other hand, crime requires serious punishment that is also proportional to its seriousness and severity. As a result, many societies cannot find the desired balance of humanness and crime control. Stella’ article has the potential to contribute to the current understanding of the criminal justice philosophy and the role of rehabilitation in it. Simultaneously, Stella’s (2001) article provides little guidance as for how the Italian and international society can achieve the desired level of unity. Stella (2001) provides solid arguments to support his claims but does not offer explicit recommendations how to improve the situation. As such, the discussed article is merely the starting point in the analysis of the rehabilitation versus punishment controversy affecting today’s criminal justice systems.