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Unit information: Punishment in Society in 2020/21

Unit name Punishment in Society
Unit code SPOL20052
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. Pantazis
Open unit status Not open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit examines punishment in society. It draws on sociological, historical, and penal theory to understand how societies punish for criminal wrong-doing. The unit begins by introducing students to key ideas, concepts, and justifications for punishment as well as abolitionist critiques against the use of punishment as a response to crime. Students are also introduced to sociological perspectives in order to understand the nature of punishment and shifts in punishment styles. The substantive part of the unit focuses on contemporary uses of punishment including imprisonment, corporal punishment, the death penalty, and community punishment. The relationship between imprisonment as a mode of punishment and political economy is assessed through an examination of country/regional case studies including, for example, the US experiment with mass incarceration.

The unit will provide an overview of the development of past and contemporary penal policy both nationally and internationally. It will review the main justifications for punishment and evaluate different theoretical explanations for the evolution of punishment in society. It will examine key developments in contemporary penal policy, and understand the drivers for these shifts, and explore key debates concerning society's use of punishment.

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will be able to:

  1. Evaluate justifications for punishment and the challenge posed by abolitionist critiques.
  2. Synthesise and critique a range of theoretical perspectives which explain the nature of punishment and how punishment in societies has evolved.
  3. Understand different types of punishment used in contemporary society and its impact on particular groups.
  4. Reflect on how punishment is shaped by political economy.
  5. Write a well-argued, clear and accurate document.
  6. Present complex ideas through a presentation.

Teaching details

Teaching will be delivered through blended learning involving a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, including weekly lectures, practical activities supported by study-group sessions, and self-directed exercises. Narrated power point presentations will cover more conceptual and theoretical aspects of the unit, whilst case-examples and other applied learning will take the form of self-paced, material delivered electronically, and undertaken individually or supported by pair and group work, and involving elements of tutor feedback and peer-assessment. Feedback will be provided for formal assessments, preparation for which will be supported through online activities and in weekly study-group sessions.

Assessment Details

Part 1: Presentation (max 10 minutes) (40%) (Assessing ILOs 1, 2 and 6)

Part 2: Essay (2000 words) (60%) (Assessing ILOs 3,4, and 5)

Reading and References

  • Canton, R. (2017) Why Punish? An Introduction to the Philosophy of Punishment, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Cavandino, M., Dignan, J and Mair, G. (2013, 5th ed) The Penal System, London: Sage
  • Jewkes, Y, Crewe, B. and Bennett, J. (2016, 2nd ed) Prison Handbook, London: Routledge
  • Reiman, J. (2017, 11th ed) Rich get richer and the poor get prison, S.I.: Routledge
  • Scott, D. and Flynn, N (2014, 2nd ed) Prisons and Punishment: The Essentials, London: Sage