No. XXVII (2004)

Positive General Prevention (Chosen Theories)

Published 2004-06-14


  • positive general prevention,
  • Germany,
  • criminal law,
  • penal policy,
  • punishment

How to Cite

Szamota-Saeki, B. (2004). Positive General Prevention (Chosen Theories). Archives of Criminology, (XXVII), 43–66.


 The idea of socio-educating function of punishment is not recent. It appeared in XVIIIth century. Its renewal of XXth century is explained by the disappointment of the deterrent and re-socialising effectiveness of criminal punishment. It is also a reaction towards the abolitionary postulates’ questioning the sense of existence of the criminal punishment. There are many versions of this theory. It is widely popular in Germany where it is calted ‘positive general prevention’ or the ‘integrating prevention’.

        The term ‘positive general prevention’ was constructed in Germany in opposition to the traditional term ‘general prevention’ understood solely as a general deterrence. It is meant to stress the turn away from the so understood ‘general prevention’ and a promoting of the positive function of criminal punishment. This ‘positive’ or ‘integrating’ function of punishment is, in most simple terms, based on strengthening the morality, supporting the desired attitudes and ways of behaving, strengthening the trust in law, in shaping the law awareness, and also encouraging norms recognition. The purpose of the punishment is preserving and strengthening the normative integration of society. It is realised not by creating fear but by using persuasion, by teaching about necessity and usefulness of the criminal law norms and by obeying them for the social order. It is also important to bring about a custom of law obedience.

        The popularity of the positive general prevention is explained differently in the German studies. Most often, it is pointed out that, on the one hand, a return towards the absolutist theories is commonly rejected there, and on the other hand, that there is a popular disappointment with the efficiency of prevention and re-socialisation. The positive general prevention an opportunity for keeping a preventive character of theory of punishment with a simultaneous introduction of a retributive element in form of guilt rule. It thus creates a combination of rationality of prevention theories with a guaranteed character of the absolutist theories. It also has an advantage over the mixed theories of punishment as it is directed at a single goal.

        Despite of a significant differentiation of the positive general prevention theories, it is relatively easy to define some of its characteristics:

  1. the addressee of an execution of the criminal law and punishment is society and not an individual person, where it is mostly about the influence on those members of society who do obey the law.
  2. the positive general prevention aims at long term, indirect activity and not at an immediate, short term effect on society.
  3. the persuasive nature of the criminal law is stressed, its ability to persuade, as well as the symbolic, expressive meaning of punishment as means of communicating. The content of that message in German conception is, in general, that criminal law norm is still valid. It exceptionally evokes to the moral condemnation of a deed as a subject of that message.
  4. the representatives of the theory of positive general prevention educe the purpose of the punishment from the entire penal law system. Penal law and the penalty itself come in those ideas on the very same grounds. Therefore it is not a theory of punishment but a theory of the penal law.
  5. these theories agree that the positive, integrating effect can be brought about only by a just punishment.
  6. a very typical feature of the German ideas is using the term of guilt in reference to functionality. It makes them vulnerable to a reproach that, in fact, they are veiled absolutist theories.

       I analyse five ideas of the positive general prevention in this article. It was

my aim to select those ideas which could indicate its diversity.

  1. Mayer's theory contributed to the rebirth of the socio-educational theory of punishment function in German studies. It belongs to the movement of the expressive punishment theories. According to Mayer penalty has an educational aspect for the society by strengthening or creating morality of the community.

       Integrating prevention, as understood by H. Muller-Dietz, is an activity of punishment which is based on creating and strengthening the ways that law is perceived by the citizens. The integrating function is realised by the regulatory and court systems of justice.

      The most popular in Germany is the theory of G. Jakobs. It clearly refers

to the theory of systems by Niklas Luhmann. Jakobs stresses that punishment expresses a protest against breaking a norm paid by the offender. It shows that the norm broken with a deed is still valid and that it is determinant as an orientation example for social interactions.

      A very strong feature of W. Hasserman’s idea is the emphasis of how the penal law system influences the entirety of social control processes.

  1. Streng refers to the psychoanalysis and psychology of the punishing society, in order to explain the general preventative activity of punishment. He mentions three unconscious, emotional sources of punishment.

      In the conclusion I discuss the significance of the presented theories for the studies of criminal law and the practices of administration of criminal justice.



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