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This study is designed to introduce perspectives of sociological understanding for criminal punishment. The basic stance of sociology of punishment is that we should consider social contexts under which penal policy and criminal justice activities are constructed and processed. This notion is quite different from the existing penological approach to the enterprise of crime control : it focuses on finding the best way to deter criminals from committing crimes and evaluating the most effective correctional programs and punishment devices. On the contrary, the sociology of punishment seeks to understand punishment within the broader social environments such as economic and political contexts. According to the sociological account of the function of punishment, a main role of punishment is not confined in its instrumental purposes. It also serves as an indicator to represent the society itself. Based on this line of understanding, this article first clarifies the concept and functions of punishment in sociological terms and then introduces explanations for changes in forms of punishment suggested by Durkheim, Marxist penal sociologists and Foucault. Next, it reviews many empirical studies that consider social, economic, political contexts for explaining crime control practices such as imprisonment. In conclusion, this study encourages further research adopting the sociological lenses in exploring criminal justice practices.