Choosing a topic

Saint Augustine of Hippo, an early Christian philosopher, once stated, ‘Punishment is justice for the unjust’. Hurt by the infliction of punitive measures on law offenders, he recognized that while punishment my not be the best reaction to law offending, some system to prevent further crimes from occurring must be in place. Our interest in this topic started in a similar fashion; questioning the need for punishment in the first place.

To understand this system further, we made a group of four people, and started researching about the history of crime and punishment. We found that the root of punishment lay in Hammurabi’s code of law, in ancient Mesopotamia, by the name of lex talionis. This means punishment by retribution or an eye for an eye method, where the victim was allowed to exact revenge on his offender as a form of cathartic punishment. In this time, there was no standard punishment for crime, the victim could inflict what he felt was a satisfactory punishment.

Plato brought about a change in this system of thinking and introduced standard punishments by law. A rise in number of prisoners being used on social construction projects was also seen. This could be the roots of the first prison industry. In the middle ages, punishments got more brutal, gory and savage. Flogging and mutilation were common kinds of punishments. On the other hand, prisoners were also instructed in Christianity during the term of their stay. During this time, prisons were only meant as a place to stay until the prisoner was convicted.

After this, in Europe, the idea of Penal transportation became very popular, where able-bodied young men would be sent to colonies to serve their sentence in a new environment. This was considered to be a form of mercy compared to the earlier brutal punishments. It was not until much later that the concept of imprisonment as punishment was developed. This is followed even today, where incarceration is the most common form of punishment.

Through this, we recognized five forms of punishment that have developed through the ages;

  • Retribution; as with Hammurabi’s Code
  • Deterrence; as with capital punishment in the Middle ages
  • Reforms; as with prisoners being taught the Bible for morality
  • Isolation; as with penal transportation; and
  • Incarceration; as a milder form of isolation

Another method of research that we did was to understand the legal system of India in terms of crime, punishment and law. Crime was branched by nature of crime and severity of crime. In law, we looked into the broader states that affected different crimes and who they applied to. The image below depicts our understanding of the system.


While doing this classification, we realized that this topic was much too broad for us to intervene in during the course of this project. This we decided to narrow down to a sub topic ‘Crime and Punishment’. These topics were:

  • Reforms and Rehabilitation
  • Designing Out Crime
  • Juvenile Justice; and
  • Crimes Against Tourists

We mapped these topics out further, after some brief secondary research, to the following maps;

  • Reforms and Rehabilitation is a form of dealing with law offenders by trying to better their life and behaviour rather than inflicting punishment on them.
  • Crimes Against Tourists is an upcoming topic of interest, due to the rising numbers of assault and theft against foreign tourists in India.
  • Designing Out Crime is an interesting approach in design that we found, which focuses on the prevention of crime through responsible design.
  • Juvenile Justice is the system dealing with crimes committed by children and against children.

Out of these four systems, we found common interest in Juvenile Justice, as it would need us to look into reforms, prevention, child psychology and child behaviour deeply.

Keep reading our posts to find out how we went about studying this challenging system!

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