What Are Penal Codes?

A penal code is a list that defines crimes, the laws that apply to them, and their associated punishments, explains The Law Dictionary. Penal codes are also called criminal codes, and each state has one, notes the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School. The federal penal code is in Chapter 18 of the U.S. Code.

An example of a state penal code is contained in the state statutes of Texas, as noted on the Texas Constitution and Statutes home page. As of 2013, the code contains information about Texas laws and legal procedures, and it is organized into categories such as offenses against property and people, organized crime, punishments, principles of criminal responsibility, and offenses against public order and decency. Each of these categories, or titles, is further subdivided into corresponding chapters.that deal with specific topics. The federal criminal code is divided into five sections, and each part addresses a specific aspect of U.S. law, says the Legal Information Institute.

A document called the model penal code was completed in 1962, in an attempt by the American Law Institute to standardize state criminal codes, according to the Free Dictionary. Prior to the publication of the model penal code, most states had disorganized criminal statutes that did a poor job of defining crimes. After the model penal code was introduced, 36 states changed their criminal codes, and some even used the exact wording of the model code. The model penal code is arranged in four parts: general provisions that define functions and rules, definitions of offenses, provisions concerning correction and treatment, and rules governing the organization of corrections departments.