Religion, Crime and Punishment – PUNISHMENTS (prison, community service, corporal punishment, capital punishment)


Prisons are an important part of our justice system in the UK. However, not all people agree on how useful they are and whether they fulfill the aims of punishment effectively.


Here are some arguments for and against the use of prisons:


  • Prisons are an important way of fulfilling the aims of punishment eg they protect society from dangerous criminals.
  • It gives a criminal a chance to take time out, away from negative influences outside and reflect on their behaviour and actions. They can also complete education and job training.
  • Seeing others being given a harsh prison sentence acts as a deterrent to others.
  • Prison takes away our most important possession, our freedom. They are therefore a really important way of punishing criminals harshly.



  • It costs £60,000 to keep someone in prison for one year. This money could be better spent on education and healthcare
  • Prisons simply breed resentment, bitterness and hatred.
  • Prisons are simply schools for crime. Younger criminals who may have committed relatively minor offences are mixing with rapists and murderers. This cannot be good.
  • 59% of offenders who have a custodial sentence of 12 months or less go on to reoffend over the following year. Prisons simply do not work in terms of reforming criminals.
  • Having a custodial sentence and a prison record makes it incredibly difficult to get a job on release. If people cannot work then they are much more likely to reoffend.
  • The families of those in prison suffer the most. They may struggle financially and many relationships break down. Children grow up knowing what prison is. Should they know at a young age?
  • Many people in prison have major mental health problems. Locking someone up is not going to help this. Criminals need support and treatment.


Christian and Muslim Attitudes Towards Prison

From a religious perspective, both Christianity and Islam would say that prisons play a role in dealing with crime.

Christians would say that time in prison gives criminals the chance to reflect and hopefully change for the better. The idea of reform is absolutely crucial. This fits with the Christian concept of forgiveness, “Forgive those who trespass against us”. The Christian prison reformer Elizabeth Fry largely established this attitude towards the role of prisons. Elizabeth Fry believed it was vital to give prisoners a reason to stay out of prison through education and job training. Christians would also say however that other forms of punishment are also important such as community service.


Islam emphasises the aim of retribution so would argue that harsh prison sentences are very important but only one aspect of punishment. Many Muslims would argue that corporal punishment is just as important as prison eg amputation of a hand as a last resort for stealing. Muslims would also say that in certain cases the death penalty may be appropriate, “Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law.” (Qur’an)


Community Service

Often called community payback. For some crimes a judge may feel that a community service sentence is more appropriate than a prison sentence. Community service means doing up to 300 hours of unpaid work.


Wayne Rooney

Recently given 100 hours unpaid work as a punishment for drink driving. Wayne Rooney has been working in a garden centre, which supports those with learning difficulties.

Not all people agree over how effective community service is. Look at the arguments below:



  • Much more positive approach to punishment rather than locking someone up. Gives people a chance to put right what they have done wrong and see the value in the work they do eg Wayne Rooney wants to continue to support the garden centre where he has been working.
  • Wearing high visibility jackets acts as an embarrassment and deterrent. People don’t want to be seen doing community service.
  • The punishment can fit the crime e cleaning up graffiti. This fits with the aim of retribution.
  • Avoids younger or less dangerous criminals to stay out of prison and mixing with dangerous more hardened criminals
  • Allows people to keep their job and stay in touch with their family. This is important in terms of keeping people away from more serious crime.



  • There aren’t enough projects available for criminals to participate in
  • Often seen as a ‘soft’ option which does not act as a deterrence or to true reform
  • Monitoring and management of the schemes is often poor. Criminals behave badly in public and often don’t complete the hours.



Religious Views On Community Service



  • Community service fits with the aim of reformation. This is the most important aim of punishment for a Christian.



  • Community service can play a role but in many cases just isn’t tough enough. Islam would emphasise the importance of retribution and deterrence rather than reform.


Corporal Punishment

Corporal Punishment is the use of physical pain to punish a criminal act. Corporal punishment is not used as part of the UK justice system but is used in many countries such as Saudi Arabia. Types of corporal punishment include whipping, caning or even the amputation of a hand for theft.


Reasons to use corporal punishment:

  • Acts as a powerful deterrent. People do not want to experience pain
  • It can fulfill the aim of retribution and bring about a change in behaviour quickly
  • Could be seen as more effective than prison particularly if done publicly so other people see the punishment


Reasons to not use corporal punishment:

  • It is backward and inhumane
  • Simply causes more hatred and anger. It cannot change a person but simply make them worse
  • Motivated by revenge which is not a good enough reason alone
  • Teaches that use of pain and violence is acceptable



Religious Attitudes Towards Corporal Punishment



  • The vast majority of Christians are against corporal punishment as it goes against the teaching ‘Love thy neighbour’. They would say that using violence is wrong and does not encourage reform. Some Christians would say that a parent who ‘spares their child the rod’ Proverbs 13 is not supporting good behaviour so would say that smacking or hitting children could be acceptable.



  • Used frequently in Muslim countries “As for the thief male or female, cut off their hand”
  • Designed to support Retribution and Deterrence as well as bring about Reform quickly.



Exam Tip – Try to see the ‘bigger picture’ in this unit. Some questions will require you to bring in a range of ideas. Look at the 12 mark Q below. What could you include? If you are not sure, ask your teacher in class or via e mail.

  • ‘Punishments in the UK are not harsh enough’ (12)


The Death Penalty – Capital Punishment

In some countries where the death penalty is still used eg China, America and Iran it is usually given for the most serious offences eg murder. However, it may also be given for crimes such as adultery, drug offences, treason and war crimes.


The death penalty in the UK was abolished in 1965 although some think it is a punishment that should be brought back.


Look at the non-religious arguments below:



  • Murderers lose their human rights when they take other peoples lives
  • It is common sense to say that killing murderers will deter others.
  • A killer who has been executed can never do it again.
  • The very small chance of executing the wrong person is balanced by the benefits to society of deterring murderers. This is a Utilitarian approach. The death of a few murderers is worth it if it keeps society safer.
  • Some people deserve to die eg terrorists who kill innocent civilians.
  • Some people who are given life sentences are out on the streets within years. This is unacceptable and makes a mockery of the justice system. They have not paid sufficiently for what they have done.
  • Capital punishment helps the family of the victim come to terms with their loss as it satisfies the desire for revenge. Revenge is a natural human emotion.
  • The death of a small number of prisoners means that society is safer and money can be spent on things that benefit all people eg healthcare and education rather than criminals


  • Lethal injection and electrocution are not always smooth and painless. They can cause painful deaths and are actually a form of torture.
  • Keeping prisoners on death row for many years is itself cruel and a form of torture.
  • No one has ever been able to demonstrate statistically that killing murderers deters others.
  • When countries (eg Canada) get rid of the death penalty there is no instant increase in crime.
  • Legal systems always make some mistakes. Executing the wrong person makes people think the law is unfair.
  • 95 people have been released from death row in the USA since 1973. They were found to have been wrongly convicted
  • The law condemns murder then goes on to murder in the name of the law.
  • It allows no chance for a criminal to reform their character.
  • In the past innocent people have been executed. An example of this is Derek Bentley. Is it really worth the risk?

Christian Views on the Death Penalty

Most Christians are against the use of the death penalty for the following reasons:

  • “Thou shall not kill.” (10 Commandments)
  • “Forgive those who trespass against us.” (Jesus) The death penalty offers no forgiveness.
  • All life is sacred and God given. No human being has the right to take away life. This is called the sanctity of life.
  • Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (Jesus) The death penalty is not loving.


However, some Christians may accept the death penalty due to the quote ‘An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ meaning that the only appropriate sentence for taking a life is for a criminal to lose their life.


Muslim Views on the Death Penalty

  • In Islam, the death penalty can be given for two sorts of crime, intentional murder and ‘spreading mischief in the land’. In relation to this second teaching, the death penalty can be given for the following crimes: treason, terrorism, rape, adultery, homosexual activity and speaking against Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. This is under Shariah Law
  • ‘Take not life that God has made sacred except by way of justice’ (Qur’an)
  • The Prophet Muhammad sentenced people to death for murder. Muslims should follow his example.


However, some Muslims do oppose the use of the death penalty for the following reasons:

  • Some Muslims might argue against the death penalty as it is playing God – only God gives and takes life. This is the greatest sin of shirk.
  • Shari’ah law states that a family of a murder victim can accept money from a criminal rather than insist on the death penalty.

Exam Tip –Look at the 12 mark Q below. What could you include? If you are not sure, ask your teacher in class or via e mail:

  • ‘The Death penalty should be reintroduced in the UK’ (12)

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