Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access



Second Department


First Advisor

Timothy Stablein

Second Advisor

Krisanna Scheiter




punishment, deviance, prison, prisoners, retributivism, deterrence, rehabilitation, laws, penal, revenge, solidarity, society, retribution


The U.S. Penal System is known to be one of the most punitive punishment systems in the world. Many discussions around the system's approach to punishment have often used either a sociological framework or philosophical one, but rarely use both. The purpose of this thesis is to use philosophical theories of punishment and sociological observations of the current U.S. penal system to appropriately analyze the system and determine what kind of approach to punishment the system uses and what approach it should use. To do so, the thesis lays the groundwork for such analysis by establishing that the purposes of laws are to ensure social order and equal protection of all people. This thesis also establishes the distinction between law and morality. Next, the purposes of laws and the sociological function of deviance are used to determine how punishment should simultaneously reflect the purposes of laws while acknowledging when deviance is necessary. With these conditions, an assessment of deterrence, rehabilitation, and retributivism as justified theories of punishment is conducted with the conclusion that retributivism is the only justified approach to punishment. Then, the history of the U.S. Prison System, the current conditions of U.S. prisons, and societal treatment of offenders after they leave prison are all presented. Using this information, my thesis comes to 3 conclusions: the U.S prison system is historically callous towards prisoners, perpetuates inequality, and uses a vengeful approach to punishment.



Rights Statement

In Copyright - Educational Use Permitted.