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Frameworks for Punishment Narratives: Fear, Vengeance, Closure and Retribution

Fear Narratives

  • Initial action: Usually a violent crime, often an unprovoked murder or sexual assault perpetrated by a predatory stranger.
  • Key features: Crime or criminal is portrayed as frightening rupture to otherwise safe society and, because they contain such individuals, prisons are depicted as a place that should be feared.
  • Narrative conclusion: Execution will eradicate the feared creatures, and at the very least life without parole will contain the criminal within an institution that is a brutal, terrifying place.

Vengeance Narratives

  • Initial action: Usually a serious crime. Often a particularly violent murder or particularly brutal sexual assault.
  • Key features: Crime is portrayed as a violent rupture within an otherwise non-violent community or society. Emotional victimhood stories of suffering can come from victim or victim’s family. Stories will likely feature highly descriptive accounts of the more brutal aspects of the crime. Punishment should be excessive or harsh as a means of marking the severity of the crime.
  • Narrative conclusion: Marking the severity of the crime, desires for revenge are met by way of harsh and/or excessive punishment which has a strongly emotional tone. The victim or victim’s family are allowed to take some pleasure and/or achieve a sense of satisfaction in knowing the offender will suffer.
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