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Brief History and Evolution of Crime Prevention

Focusing specifically on the Code of Hammurabi and the Code of Lipit-Ishtar to show how they have influenced todays restorative justice approach.

“Laws of justice which Hammurabi, the wise king, established.  A righteous law, and pious statute did he teach the land” (Code of Hammurabi).  Written in 2000 B.C., the Code of Hammurabi was designed to bring together both secular and religious proscriptions in an attempt to standardize punishments for wrongdoings.  The very basis of the word “justice” stems from the Greek word “dike” meaning that everything must stay within its assigned place or order for the administration of awards or punishments.  Similar to the Code of Hammurabi, the Code of Lipit-Ishtar was also designed to “establish justice in Sumer and Akkad in accordanc with teh word of Enlil” (Code of Lipit-Ishtar).  Written almost 200 years apart, both Codes were designed to administer punishments for crimes committed, while also attempting to define rights and wrongs towards human behaviors.  In today’s language, both Codes may be considered restorative justice, or rather an attempt to repair the harm done by a crime, giving all parties involved a sense of revenge or retribution.

Broken down into 282 different “codes of laws”, the Code of Hammurabi is largely a mixture of capital punishment (death penalty) and punitive damages (money) required in return for a variety of crimes committed.  With the majority of laws resulting in two such punishments, it’s very difficult to argue that the Code of Hammurabi is a shame-oriented law of the land.  According to, shame is considered “different kinds or degrees of painful feeling caused by injury to one’s pride or self respect…shame is a painful feeling caused by the consciousness or exposure of unworthy or indecent conduct or circumstances”.  Understanding that “shame” is considered more of an individual feeling, it may be difficult to place death and monetary retribution in such a category.  Instead, understanding that the definition of revenge suggests that it is “a punishment or injury inflicted in return for one received” may help us to better define such laws as “revenge-centered” retributions.  The Code of Lipit-Ishtar also demonstrates this point with its almost nine (known) laws resulting in retribution through the payment of silver.  Unlike early English law, whose punishments where most definitely shame-oriented with public floggings and gallows, there is little of such justice demonstrated throughout either type of Code.

When attempting to analyze which type of crime prevention approach, shame-oriented or revenge-centered, is more effective, it is best to look at our current model of crime prevention.  Although our early ancestors believed in public shaming as a deterrent, today’s structure depends more upon victim retribution and “just-desserts”, than it does upon public humiliation.  Many of today’s laws place an emphasis on general and specific deterrence as a means to prevent crime.  However, with constant overflow of our nations’ prison system, it may be difficult to argue that revenge for retribution produces the best results in crime prevention.  With the use of shame as a deterrent, many repeat offenders may think twice before attempting to steal again if a large branded “T” for “thief” wasa permanant fixture on their hands.  Unfortunately, there is no easy answer asto the best approach towards crime prevention.  Revenge-centered retribution offers a more civilized approach, however leaves many areas open for interpretation and possible miscarriages of justice.  While shame-oriented crime prevention is a more crude approach, it makes a very clear statement that society will not tolerate such crimes committted against them.

Although both the Code of Hammurabi and the Code of Lipit-Ishtar were written thousands of years ago, their core principles have carried on throughout the ages.  During their rein, both Hammurabi and Lipit-Ishtar were know for being fair, righteous, humble, and just rulers.  Their teachings continue to be passed down through the generations, for both laws left little room for interpretation, exceptions, or explanations from their offenders once they had been found guilty for their crimes.  Such laws kept the well-being of their societies first, by attempting to keep order and peace among their people through the initiation of unity under the same set of laws and standards.  Such laws sought retribution through justice, regardless of whether that justice is interpreted as revenge-centered or shame-oriented. 

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