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England’s Punishment and Sentencing Research Paper


The criminal justice system is generally multifaceted and has numerous stakeholders. It is the tool that is used by state governments to ensure that there is an order in society. It is also used to enforce laws and to administer justice. Also, it permits every government to exercise some level of control over its citizens.

This paper examines the issue of punishment and sentencing in England as a way of guaranteeing a healthy society. It takes a look at the history of the country’s criminal justice system and the contribution of England to the world criminal justice system.


Criminal justice is regarded as a multifaceted system with numerous goals and many players. It is used mainly used by state governments to maintain order, enforce laws, and administer justice. To a certain extent, it permits governments to mess about with the lives of citizens.

Originally, prisons were meant to be a holding place for defendants waiting to be tried. Prison facilities were mostly owned by private individuals who would charge prisoners for accommodation and other vital services. In England, prisons were used as detention rather than punishment facilities. Prisoners in these facilities would be faced with starvation and existed in very poor health conditions. Also, they risked contracting illnesses in the process.

This paper looks at the development of punishment and sentencing and how it is presently applied in England.


According to Hostettler (vii), the modern criminal justice system has undergone a great transformation to be what it is today. It includes different forms of policing, courts, specific procedures, and various types of punishments. This has been associated with changes in the culture, laws, and political theories in England. Drawing from a study by Terrill (18), the establishment of political and legal institutions in the United Kingdom took place between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. After the English Civil War that happened during the first half of the seventeenth century, political institutions that led to the modern structure of governance were established. The House of Commons was instituted while the monarch in England was reduced and political parties emerged.

While many countries in the world have a formal written document known as the constitution and used to govern the country, England is governed through an unwritten constitution. The country’s constitution is a mixture of statute laws, precedent, and tradition (Terrill 23). Constitutional law in England is mainly founded on statutes of parliament. Parliament in the United Kingdom is supreme and is fully responsible for the creation of the law that governs the country.

As noted by Hirschel, Wakefield, and Sasse (21), the framework of government in the United Kingdom differs from many others, including the United States in several ways. First, England has a unitary system of government that does not have separate state and federal systems. Secondly, there is the doctrine of the supremacy of parliament which grants parliament the autonomy to create laws that cannot be shot down by courts. As earlier explained, England also lacks a formally documented constitution. Also, there is the existence of a monarchy and the country does not emulate the doctrine of separation of powers found in the United States.

Analysis of England’s Punishment and Sentencing

For a very long time, prison facilities were regarded by the public as a dumping ground for people who were considered to be a threat to others. These people were as viewed as a threat to the normal functioning of society (Dewhurst 6). By and large, imprisonment in England is a penalty that the state is permitted to place on an individual accused of committing a crime and going against the law of the land.

Among other things, imprisonment causes an individual to be confined from the rest of the society besides being denied several privileges. As argued by Dewhurst (12), the prison has been an important feature of England’s criminal justice system for so many years. It is through prison facilities that punishment was administered to offenders. As explained by Pollock (4), punishment refers to pain that is suffered by an offender as a result of an offense committed against the state and violates the rule of law.

Although inflicting pain on a person is generally wrong, punishment in the United Kingdom has been supported for two main reasons. Under the retributive reasoning, punishment is permissible as long as it is deserved while under the utilitarian rationale, punishment is seen as a means of producing greater good in society. Arguably, punishment leads to a reduced crime rate either through deterrence, incapacitation, or be a way of rehabilitation.

Drawing from the study by Pollock (4), retribution is concerned with addressing a wrong by way of punishment. However, it must only be carried out by an authorized individual expected to adhere to an agreed-upon procedure of dealing with the offender. On the other hand, the utilitarian rationale considers punishment as something completely evil. However, it can be justified when one thinks of the good that comes out eventually.

Over the years, punishment in England and other places has been directed either to an individual’s body or to his or her possessions. Different methods have been used to administer corporal punishment in England and include whipping, beheading, or torture. According to Cohen (73), the intentions of punishment in England tend to emanate from the very society an offender operates in. Ordinarily, the parties involved include, the person who commits a crime, his or her victim, law enforcers, and the wider community.

Even though prisons have been used for many years in England, their popularity as punishment and correction facilities gained momentum from the 19th century. Local county prisons, also referred to as jails were merged with correction houses, and this finally opened room for rationalization and standardization of prisons in England. It is on this principle that the modern-day prison system was born in London.

Allegedly, this was a revolutionary step in the history of England’s criminal justice system. It was at this point that a decision was made to make imprisonment was part of the punishment to be received by an offender. As pointed out earlier, prisons were mostly used as temporary holding places for criminals before a suitable punishment could be agreed upon. By taking this step, it is assumed that England laid the foundation for the present-day prison system (Dewhurst 12). As a result, imprisonment became a popular method of punishment not only in England but in other places in the world as well.

As time went by, punishment slowly turned from being a public to a private affair handled with dignity and respect for the offender. This caused the attitude of the public toward prisoners to change and the use of punishments became more effective than ever before. Also, there was greater regard for human rights.


As discussed in this paper, punishment and sentencing in England have undergone tremendous change since inception. Justifications for punishment and sentencing include but are not limited to deterrence, incapacitation, and denunciation. Unlike the earlier system used in England, the modern system of punishment is designed to yield better results and create a healthy social environment.

Works Cited

Cohen, Stanley. “An Introduction to the Theory, Justifications and Modern Manifestations of Criminal Punishment.” McGill Law Journal 27 (n.d.): 73 – 91. Print.

Dewhurst, Nicola. (2012). “A Critical Analysis of the Justifications of Imprisonment as Punishment and the Culture of Punitiveness in Comparison to the Realities of Prison Life within England and Wales.” Internet Journal of Criminology (2012): 1 – 31. Print.

Hirschel, David, William Wakefield and Scott Sasse. Criminal Justice in England and the United States. Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2008. Print.

Hostettler, John. A History of Criminal Justice in England and Wales. Oregon, US: Waterside Press, 2009. Print.

Pollock, Joycelyn. The Rationale for Imprisonment. Web.

Terrill, Richard. World Criminal Justice Systems: A Comparative Survey. New York, NY: Routledge, 2015. Print.

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1. IvyPanda. "England’s Punishment and Sentencing." October 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/englands-punishment-and-sentencing/.


IvyPanda. "England’s Punishment and Sentencing." October 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/englands-punishment-and-sentencing/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "England’s Punishment and Sentencing." October 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/englands-punishment-and-sentencing/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'England’s Punishment and Sentencing'. 9 October.

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