Penology and it’s classifications

Penology, first acknowledged in 1834, stands at the intersection of law, philosophy, and social science as the study of punishments. The concept of punishment itself sparks debate, suggesting not one but a spectrum of penologies, each with its unique definitions and methodologies. This discourse aims to explore the multifaceted nature of penology, dissecting its various branches: political-corrective penology, juridical-systemic penology, socio-contextual penology, and post-penology. Far from being a chronological succession, these terms distinguish the frameworks within which punishment-related issues are understood.

Political-Corrective Penology

The 19th century saw the rise of a philosophy that championed the belief in the potential for change in a criminal’s thought and behavior patterns. This era marked a significant pivot from purely punitive measures to a more rehabilitative approach within penitentiaries, integrating “curative” intervention programs ranging from moral to medical and psychological solutions. Political-corrective penology thus emerged, assessing punishments through a lens that merged philosophical, legal, and pragmatic considerations.

Human sciences have since fostered a penological science aligned with state-controlled crime prevention activities. This branch of penology, while initially corrective in nature, has embraced various political and social trends (justice, repair, etc.), maintaining its relevance through a polymorphism that never fully detached from its philosophical and legal roots. It encompasses the notions that punishment or treatment is a state-mandated duty, social exclusion of the individual is necessary for intervention, and inflicting suffering on others is justified by the resultant greater good.

Juridical-Systemic Penology

This branch views sentences through the lens of modern penal rationality while acknowledging the challenges in envisioning a different perspective on criminal law. Juridical-systemic penology is deeply rooted in criminal law itself, including its interactions with other legal systems, public policies, and the media. It questions the penal law’s introspective capacity, describing modern punishment theories (retribution, deterrence, denunciation, rehabilitation/neutralization) and illustrating how they collectively form a coherent system of penal rationality. This rationality, shaped by a combative logic, is seen as a major barrier to adopting non-hostile, inclusive sanctions.

Socio-Contextual Penology

This approach situates penalties within their social historicity to better understand their forms and applications. Socio-contextual penology views penal actions not just through a legal-philosophical lens but considers them against the backdrop of economic, social, and cultural shifts impacting the penal environment. It posits that changes in power dynamics, societal norms, legitimization of knowledge, and perceptions of the individual can reflect in the penal system, offering a broader understanding of punishment.

Moreover, this penology highlights how penalties are influenced by changes in norm articulation and social control patterns. In the modern era, the clarity of norms and control mechanisms has notably evolved, suggesting a move towards risk management and technology-driven moral configurations, significantly impacting criminal justice strategies.


Post-penology extends the discourse beyond traditional delinquency and penal measures to explore broader societal harm and its regulation. This perspective shifts focus from punishment justifications and modalities to the experiences of all stakeholders in problematic situations, recognizing that penal experiences can engender suffering and resistance. It critiques traditional penologies for perpetuating the reliance on criminalization and state punishment while overlooking the selective nature of penal actions and the societal issues (e.g., poverty, environmental harm) that remain unpenalized.

Through these lenses, penology reveals itself as a complex and evolving field, reflecting the nuances of societal values, legal principles, and the perpetual quest for a balanced approach to crime and punishment. This exploration underscores the importance of continually reassessing our penal philosophies to better address the challenges of modern justice systems.