Criminal law is distinctive for the uniquely serious, potential
consequences or sanctions for failure to abide by its rules. Every
crime is composed of criminal elements. Capital punishment may be
imposed in some jurisdictions for the most serious crimes. Physical or
corporal punishment may be imposed such as whipping or caning,
although these punishments are prohibited in much of the world.
Individuals may be incarcerated in prison or jail in a variety of
conditions depending on the jurisdiction. Confinement may be solitary.
Length of incarceration may vary from a day to life. Government
supervision may be imposed, including house arrest, and convicts may
be required to conform to particularized guidelines as part of a
parole or probation regimen. Fines also may be imposed, seizing money
or property from a person convicted of a crime.
Five objectives are widely accepted for enforcement of the criminal
law by punishments: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation,
rehabilitation and restoration. Jurisdictions differ on the value to
be placed on each.
Retribution – Criminals ought to Be Punished in some way. This is the
most widely seen goal. Criminals have taken improper advantage, or
inflicted unfair detriment, upon others and consequently, the criminal
law will put criminals at some unpleasant disadvantage to “balance the
scales.” People submit to the law to receive the right not to be
murdered and if people contravene these laws, they surrender the
rights granted to them by the law. Thus, one who murders may be
executed himself. A related theory includes the idea of “righting the
Deterrence – Individual deterrence is aimed toward the specific
offender. The aim is to impose a sufficient penalty to discourage the
offender from criminal behavior. General deterrence aims at society at
large. By imposing a penalty on those who commit offenses, other
individuals are discouraged from committing those offenses.
Incapacitation – Designed simply to keep criminals away from society
so that the public is protected from their misconduct. This is often
achieved through prison sentences today. The death penalty or
banishment have served the same purpose.
Rehabilitation – Aims at transforming an offender into a valuable
member of society. Its primary goal is to prevent further offense by
convincing the offender that their conduct was wrong.
Restoration – This is a victim-oriented theory of punishment. The goal
is to repair, through state authority, any injury inflicted upon the
victim by the offender. For example, one who embezzles will be
required to repay the amount improperly acquired. Restoration is
commonly combined with other main goals of criminal justice and is
closely related to concepts in the civil law, i.e., returning the
victim to his or her original position before the injury.