The Purposes of Punishment

The Purposes of Punishment: Deterrence, Retribution, Rehabilitation, Incapacitation


– Specific deterrence: discourage the offender from committing a similar crime in the future because of fear of punishment

– General deterrence: discourages the public from committing a similar crime by raising awareness of penalties.


– Punishment aims to be exactly equivalent to the crime committed

– Prevents victims taking law into their own hands

– In Australia this means that serious crimes = serious punishments


– Aimed at changing the behaviour of the offenders so that he/she will not wish to commit other crimes because non-criminal behaviour will be seen as preferable

– Primary focus for young offenders

– E.g. Drug addiction program


– The punishment aims to isolate the offender, usually in prison, so the they re unable to commit another crime

– Protects the community


  • General deterrence: makes an example of the criminal to deter others from committing the crime
  • Specific deterrence: aims to deter the criminal who is being charged from committing the crime
  • Some ways of deterrence more effective than others, yet may not be as ethical (for example, death penalties)


  • Based on the view that it is unfair for a person to gain from their crimes
  • Natural for the victim to want revenge
  • Punishment seeks retribution on behalf of the victim
  • Role is taken by courts, meaning the victim/family can feel marginalised by the justice system


  • Deals with the issues and problems of criminals in a more sympathetic way by identifying the cause of offending and addressing these issues
  • Reduces recidivism (re-offending)
  • Evidence suggests this is effective in relation to minor offences
  • Education and employment are the most efficient ways of rehab
  • More effective while not in prison
  • Most serious offenders are too hardened to respond to rehab programs
  • Harsh environment of prison is not conducive to effective rehab
  • Requires the cooperation of the criminal
  • Difficult to tell when the offender is “cured”, and if they should be released when they are better
  • Rehab programs not offered to non-offending citizens


  • Stops criminals from committing further crimes by imprisoning them
  • Direct way of protecting society
  • It is an admission that the prison system cannot effectively rehabilitate offenders


Extract from Legal Studies Stage 6 Syllabus. © 2009 Board of Studies NSW.