The Five Purposes Of Punishment

Criminology traditionally identifies four purposes behind punishment through the criminal law. These are:

1) Retribution
2) Deterrence
3) Restraint
4) Rehabilitation

This sounds pretty straight forward, and it’s easy to see how a sentence of 3 years in prison with possibility of parole and a $10,000 fine can accomplish all four of these aims. But the manner in which these different, often conflicting purposes interact with each other represents an endlessly complex field of possibilities. What the majority of society believes is the most important purpose of punishment one year is not what they believe a few years down the road; what one jurisdiction decides is just punishment differs or even contradicts another jurisdiction’s option; and the aim of punishment varies among criminals, each to each to each, even for the same crime, even for the same criminal and the same crime at different points in time. The variation and diversity of punishments that result from the interplay among these four purposes is really staggering, and it makes me think that judiciaries must have to have a touch of the philosopher-artist in order to do their job well.

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