The Concepts of Punishments

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In every country, criminals are punished in various ways. Some with harsh but less painful punishments like fines, imprisonment, or death. And some with lethal and brutal ones like flogging, public scorn, and decapitating.

Many people tend to ask what justifies these punishments. Most opinions appeal to punishment’s effects on the future or facts about the past. In this article, we will study these opinions.

Punishments to Save the Future

In this set of opinions, people have justified the punishments as long as they produce good results in the future. Punishments in this category can be further classified on the basis of their end results

(i)Punishments to Deter Crimes

The primary goal of any punishment is to stop the happening of the same crime again and again. That’s why you need to discourage the people who are on the verge of breaking the law. Thus these kinds of punishments are only justifiable to the extent of their success in preventing people from perpetrating crimes or repeating the same mischiefs.

So, how to deter criminals from committing crimes?

By establishing the negative (and not neutral) consequences of crimes. If a thief is only asked to return stolen things, that would be a very neutral consequence. In this case, stealing would be a very good gamble (or more of a game kind)

(ii) Punishments of Rehabilitate the Criminals

Now, contrary to deter crimes, there are some punishments which aim to reform and rehabilitate the criminals. If you can ensure that the criminal won’t repeat his crimes again and will contribute to the betterment of society, then it will be sanguine to make efforts for his rehabilitation.

Take two thieves, for instance, Ram and Shyam.

Ram is a person who tends to enjoy stealing things from other people, whereas Shyam has resorted to the act of stealing because of the lack of job and opportunities.
In Ram’s case, you may recommend punishments that will improve his character, like community service, training, therapy, and consultations.
While in the case of Shyam, you may want to provide him some kind of training and skills so that he can find a better job.

Punishments to rehabilitate entail education, training, medication, and therapy, which help the criminal to recover and start his new life in the society.

Limitations of Future Saving Punishments

One challenge that these punishments face is of matching the intensity of crime. Of course, you do not hang someone for just breaking the traffic signal, but fining them is also not delivering the desired results.

Imagine yourself driving speedily on the road, due to any emergency. Somehow, you lose your control and ramped your car over the footpath and thus killing or injuring the people walking on it. Despite committing a serious mischief, you will plead for the lighter punishment on the grounds of not repeating the same mistake again.

In short, some serious crimes calls for lighter punishments, as that crime was a one-time mistake. Whereas some trivial crimes demand a strict action due to their repeated occurrences. (Drink & driving, for example)

The second challenge for every punishment is to justify the expenses incurred by delivering the desired results.

Costly punishments like the death penalty and life-imprisonments might justify the expenses but they do not match the intensity of every crime. Fines and public scorn may match the intensity of the crime, but they do not deliver the desired results of the prevention of crimes.

Punishments to Restore the Past

When the punishment is given on the basis of ” how the crime was committed”, it is generally given to restore or redeem the past i.e. to restore the situation prior to the happening of crime.

Some punishments are given with the aim to “get back” or ” to avenge the victim”, while some punishments endeavor to return the victim’s status to what it was before the crime.

(i) The Tit-for Tat Punishments

The famous example of these kinds of punishments is the Lex talionis (the law of retaliation or an eye for an eye). The aim is to make the criminal go through the same pain which he had inflicted upon the victim. That’s why burglars should be denied of their property, murders should be killed, etc.

The aim is not to improve the future or world, but to avenge the past. This may sometimes something good, but it is always done to get back at criminal; to give him what he deserves.

So, why should we invest so much money in executing these punishments if it will not help the world making a better place?

The simple answer to this is the punishing the sinner is its own good.

(ii) Punishments to Recompense the Victims

Another theory proposes that punishments should be given, not to inflict suffering on someone or build an overall better world, but to reestablish the status of those who were harmed by the crime.

So a punishment is justified which force the criminal to restore the victim’s to their standing prior to the crime. For eg- their mental state, property, wealth and so on.

This may appeals to everyone as it aims to pacify the wronged rather than wasting energy on the wrong one.

(iii) Limitations

Punishments with the aim to restore the past have to deal with the problem of fully reestablishing someone. As some losses cannot be recovered. We cannot return the peace and calm of a raped woman, we cannot return the murdered loved ones of people. Neither you can avenge a wronged woman by raping other person’s/religion’s/community’s woman.


Some elements of all of these concepts can be combined. We may suggest rehabilitation whenever the situation allows and deterrence when impractical. We may likewise suggest recommendation along with revenge. Also, future saving and past redeeming components may be adjusted against each other, to diminish crime while at the same time giving no more punishment than justified

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