The Concept Of Theories Of Punishment

The Concept Of Theories Of Punishment


The concept of the theories of punishment belongs to ancient times and worldwide. This concept is directly connected with people’s life and reflects as a mirror of society. Every society aims to make a peaceful life for people and to fulfill that purpose. Society makes some control which is connected with a framework of some laws, rules, and regulations. By applying this concept, society can make easy, peaceful, and fearless life for the people. Here we can say that when society imposes some rules and regulations according to the framework which it creates is called punishment. That’s why the simple meaning of punishment we can say that it is a penalty that is imposed on a criminal or offender for the criminal Act or wrongdoing by him.

What is Punishment?

Punishment is generally considered a system that maintains the dignity of societal harmony. It is affected when some unwanted activities arise in society, like threats to shared values, morals, or any kind of society’s identity.

There are different methods for punishment that can be followed by society, for example, imposing fines, different kinds of community services, jail imprisonment, and some cases it can be imposed death penalty by the state.

Punishment means if any person acts in illegal activity prohibited by the law and classified as a crime, he is penalized for such activity. In other words, we can say that punishment is a penalty imposed on someone who did wrong. Criminal activities ruin society. That’s why such types of activities count against the rule of society. Here the aim of the punishment is not to give physical pain to the criminal, but the main aim of punishment is the realize the gravity of the offense that the wrongdoer does. As well to reform the wrongdoer and make changes as a good person. There are some theories of punishment established by law. In this article, we discuss the essential ones which are given below;

The Basic Concept Of Crime And Punishment

Crime and punishment are closely related. Anyone can observe that Crime means something wrong doing an act, and an offender must be punished. Crime can be considered an act or behavior usually not accepted by society, which is why it is counted as an offense in criminal law. Crime is an immoral activity that is opposed by the state or the legal system, which the community or government regulates. It is also true that Crime is considered an immoral activity or wrong Act; however that is also true that all kinds of immoral actions cannot be regarded as illegal.

It is because it depends on the formation and sanction of the legal system. There are different forms of punishment covered by society, and according to that, various forms of punishment may impose on the offender or criminal. That’s why it varies as per the formation of the different legal systems. Crime may be other as per geographical area, nation’s legal system policies, rules, regulations of the society; and the punishment is also varied as per the same. Sometimes, some kind of activity is considered a crime in one community, but it is not considered a crime in another society. For example, euthanasia is considered a crime in India, but that is legalized in Holland and many European counties. However, many offenses like murder are universally recognized as crimes. 

Theories of Punishment

There are different types of punishment covered on another basis. All these are categorized into theories of punishment depending upon the gravity of the Crime, which is relay based on refined, Term of imprisonment, or both, or in some cases, that might be Death. Let’s see some of the majorities theories of punishment.

Deterrent Theory of Punishment

This theory implies preventing something wrong. Here the word deters means to prevent something. The purpose of this theory is to prevent criminals from committing a crime. The main aim of this theory is to create fear for criminal-minded persons and others. That’s how the punishment under this theory is awarded in terms of severity. This theory helps to develop a clean and peaceful atmosphere for society and the nation. Some Islamic countries still strictly follow this theory. By applying this theory, the message can be passed to society that; anyone who commits a crime or wrong is punished. And there is a prohibition for other people from doing such activities. 

This theory of punishment fails to somewhere for achieving a goal when the criminal has a hard-core mindset toward criminal activities. In that situation, creating a fear of punishment for the Crime is challenging.

This theory has some cons that we should have known; that is given below;

  • This theory does not create fear for that criminal after the completion of the punishment. 
  • This punishment does not create any fear for the criminal with a criminal mindset.
  • Sometimes it happens that heavy punishment creates sympathy for the people for the criminal.

Retributive Theory 

This theory works on the base that the offender is punished the same as if he harms the victim. That’s why he can feel the same about what he was done to the victim. The basic meaning of the word retribute means give to return the same thing which has been received. It’s also known as another name as vengeance theory. The general rule proposed by that theory is tit for tat. for example, hand for hand, leg for leg, like natural justice. It means the punishment declared for the offender should be equal to the Crime the offender commits. This theory is ancient, and most of the followers of that theory believe that the offender must be suffered pain. 

This theory does not give any relief or mercy to the offender. It is totally based on the wild character of justice. After all, every punishment does not have in terms of revengeful nature. However, the retributive theory ignores that kind of thing.

Preventive Theory

As per the name of that theory, the main aim of this is to prevent Crime. Here in this theory, the offender is kept in jail as a part of his punishment. Through this theory, criminals are kept out of society; and they are punished. This theory is effective for preventing a repeating crime that the offender does. The punishment might be in terms of life imprisonment, seizer of property, etc. It fails when a juvenile offender commits the Crime or for that criminal who commits a crime for the first time.

Reformative theory 

This theory mainly focuses on reforming the offenders to make good civilians. This theory aims to concentrate on criminals following law and order and trying to back them into society. It was successful in the case of juveniles. In this theory, during the jail period, the offender has to be imposed some different types of work, like making hand craftsmanship work and something like that. It will help him to set up a new life after the completion of his punishment. This theory is not successful for criminally minded people. By applying this theory, The prison will be felt like a dwelling house rather than a jail.

Expiatory or Compensatory Theory

The concept of this theory is based on self-realization. Through this concept, a person who committed a crime realizes that his Act is a crime for society, which is not accepted in common. This theory says that the offender must be forgiven after realizing his Crime. In this theory, compensation may be imposed on the offender, which is given to the victim who has suffered the causal injury of the accused’s Act. An example of this theory is Mr. A was injured by Mr. B, and for that offence, Mr. B was punished and imprisoned. During that imprisonment, he was made to work and earn money. The earnest money which is achieved by Mr. B is provided to Mr. A as compensation for his injury and treatment.

This theory also does not cover all criteria of the perfect idea of punishment. It creates an oversimplification of the motive of the Crime, which is treated as too idealistic. And that is not effectively practicable in modern society.

Multiple Approach Theory

The theory aims are based on the fact that sometimes any single theory of punishment fails to get effective results from the offender. In that situation, applying a combination of multiple theories is a good idea. Through this concept, the court of law can select appropriate theories and make a reasonable approach to theories of punishment for the offender.

Incapacitation Theory

As we know, Incapacitated means deprived of power or capacity. This theory of punishment is based on capacitation to prevent Crime with fear. And it creates fear in an offender and people with a criminal-minded mentality and desire to commit a crime in the future. This theory aims to prevent future Crime in society. Life imprisonment and imposing capital punishments are the best examples of this theory.

Utilitarian Theory

This theory is based on applying a discouraging or deter method for the offender in the way of crippling and disablement for the Crime. This theory makes different impacts, such as positive and negative results, because the punishment given in that theory is very tough in nature. For example, to impose the Death penalty on an offender who was convicted of murder.

The utilitarian theory is based on consequentialist nature. in other words, this theory determines that the punishment is consequences for the criminal and society. That’s why the penalty should not exceed the total evil. In short, according to this theory, the punishment given to the offender should not be unlimited. A good example of consequentialism is a prisoner’s release from prison if he suffers a debilitation illness. Suppose the Death of a prisoner is imminent. Because there is no probability for him to be capable of committing a crime in society, his continued confinement is not an outcome of his punishment.


The theory of punishment is a different type of method which is followed by the state/country for the prevention purpose of reducing a crime in society. We know that all these theories of punishment are not the only effective way to prevent a crime in society. Many factors are also determined when considering avoiding or reducing a crime in the community. For example, noneducational, unemployment, and such things also affect the root causes of Crime in society.

The golden rule of justice is that a criminal must be punished, but an innocent can’t be punished. Some of the crimes in society are very harsh, like murder, rape, etc. And the victim of that Crime cannot be compensated for such injury. However, a victim must be an aspect of a fair and speedy trial with some compensation for him. The court of law will also determine all these weights of Crime and award the punishment with consideration to cover all aspects of justice. Also, that punishment must be notable for society and the offender.

Also Read:

What is Bailable and Non-Bailable Offences Under Indian Penal Code?

What is the applicability of Doli Incapax in IPC?

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