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Societal Protection

Societal Protection

Author: Zach Lamb

Examine societal protection as a specific function of punishment.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello, how are you today? Are you good? Thank you for tuning into sociological studies. Thank you for taking time out of your busy day.

We're going to talk about societal protection, a specific function of punishment. Societal protection is a way to control deviance and to protect society by locking up offenders temporarily for a period of time in a prison or permanently by executing via the death penalty. There are three ways of societal protection that we will discuss-- prisons, the death penalty, and what are called community-based corrections programs. There are different degrees of punishment for different degrees of crime, which is why we have three ways to punish offenders. So without further ado, let's get into community-based corrections.

Community-based corrections are forms of punishment aimed at reform rather than just mere incarceration and operate outside of jails and prisons. There are several kinds of community-based corrections we're going to discuss now, the first of which being probation. Probation is a form of punishment, where the convicted offender stays in the community but must undertake a court-imposed treatment regime, which can include counseling, drug treatment, staying away from certain people who are criminally suspect.

You must check in with a probation officer monthly, weekly. You can't drink or do drugs, things like that. This is probation. It's restricted freedom. You could think of it that way. You're out there, but you have a certain set of stipulations that you must follow that are court ordered.

Shock probation is a combination of prison and probation. Shock probation is when the judge will send the offender to prison for a brief period of time to "shock" them or to scare them, and then they resume a normal probation with stipulations, court-ordered stipulations. So this is reserved for cases that seem to be a little bit more serious infractions than those that are assigned to probation.

The third community-based corrections tactic is parole. Parole occurs when an inmate is released early, and they're allowed to finish up the rest of their sentence in society rather than locked away in a prison. This can happen for good behavior, things like that. It's very common.

Sometimes people get sentenced to life without parole, but this is rare and unlikely. Even "life sentences" don't mean life. This was very hard for me to learn when I was growing up.

My dad was a criminal defense attorney so I got this lingo a lot. And I'd ask him things like, well, why-- what do you mean life isn't life? Well, no, life is 13 years, or life is 26 years, whatever it happened to be, and I was just confused about that. A body had decided that a life sentence is this. So parole is a very common part of the rehabilitation process. If you do well in prison, you can be released on parole.

The final and most severe form of societal protection is that of the death penalty. We all know what the death penalty is, but we'll define it anyway, and that's sentencing someone to death because of severe crimes they committed. The death penalty is a morally debated topic. It's questionable with respect to morals, and it has advocates on both sides.

Not every state in the country has the death penalty. Most people are put to death in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Texas. And research suggests that the death penalty may not deter crime in the way the criminal justice system would like. So this gives ammunition for those who oppose the death penalty.

And finally the death penalty is unevenly applied. A recent study found that convicts of color were more likely to be sentenced to death than white people of equivalent criminality. So if there's a case involving a white man who murders a white woman and then a similar case of a black man who murders a white woman in a similar fashion, this study found that the black man is more likely to be sentenced to death row. So that is another case against the death penalty because racial prejudices can enter into this even though, according to due process, that's not supposed to happen.

In addition to protecting society, punishment also has the role of reducing what's called criminal recidivism, which is repeated criminal offenses. Any offense after your initial offense is an example of criminal recidivism. And this country has a very high rate of criminal recidivism. This is because jails are often hostile places that don't function to reform convicts in the way that society intends.

Recall the Stanford Prison Experiment tutorial, and you can see how then the prison becomes a very hostile place. We have high rates of criminal recidivism also because crime is socially and culturally patterned. Certain people are more likely for social and cultural reasons to be criminals than others.

Thank you very much for joining me today. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on societal protection. Have a great rest of your day.

Terms to Know
Community-Based Corrections

Forms of punishment aimed at reform, rather than mere incarceration, and operate outside of jails and prisons.

Criminal Recidivism

Repeated criminal offenses. Any offense after an initial offense is an example of criminal recidivism.

Death Penalty

A sentence of death reserved for severe crimes.


When an inmate is released early and gets to serve the rest of his or her sentence outside the prison under the loose supervision of a parole officer.


A form of punishment where the convicted offender stays in the community but must undertake a court imposed treatment regime.

Shock Probation

A form of punishment where the judge sends the offender to prison for a part of the sentence to "shock" them, and then lets them serve the rest of their sentence in the community with probation conditions.

Societal Protection

A way to control deviance in society by locking up offenders in prisons or sentencing them to the death penalty.