What Are the Objectives of Punishment?

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Punishment is the infliction of an unpleasant or negative experience on an offender in response to an offense. In ancient times, the sole purpose of punishment was retribution. However, in more modern societies the objectives of punishment include deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, rehabilitation and reparation.


Deterrence can be divided into general and specific deterrence. General deterrence is the use of punishment to discourage others who may be so-inclined from committing any offense. Those who witness the punishment meted out to an offender will likely think twice before attempting to commit such an offense. Specific deterrence is used to prevent the offender from committing any further offense.


Retribution as an objective of punishment stems from the old belief of an “an eye for an eye.” This objective of punishment aims to make offenders suffer for their crimes. The root of this objective is the belief that an offender must suffer for an offense, especially if it is a serious or truly heinous one. Capital punishment is a retributive punishment. A person who intentionally takes the life of another person is expected to pay for that offense with his own life.

Incarceration and Rehabilitation

Incarceration as an objective of punishment seeks to remove the offender from the society for the good of the society. As such, a rapist is incarcerated to protect other members of the society from such a person and to give the offender time to pay his debt to the society. Rehabilitation as an objective of punishment seeks to reform offenders by helping them conform to the standard of society. Rehabilitative criminal justice tools are parole, probation and work release.


Reparation means that the offender must make restitution to the victim as part of the punishment and as part of the condition for reentry into society. For instance, anyone who embezzles the money of another would be required to compensate the victims by returning all or part of the stolen funds. This may include selling any property he has so as to raise the funds. Reparation may be combined with incarceration or rehabilitation.

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