Theories of Punishment


1. Retributive Theory

It. Is a very primitive theory. The literal meaning of the word Retributive is to recover or regain, to rescue or save, to restore or bring back to a former and Better state. According to this theory, there should be “tit for tat’. It believes that there should Be eye for eye and tooth for tooth. So the verbal meaning of the retributive theory is to take Revenge of crime committed by the criminals. Hegel was one of the staunchest defender of this Principle. Retributive theory is based on the belief that crime is committed against the state. In other Words, crime is a kind of challenge to the power and authority of the state. It can be explained

As follows-

I. If the state does not take the revenge from the criminals, people are tortured by injustice, Which naturally infuses the feeling out anger in themselves and their near and dear ones And it poses the fear of disturbing the peace of society. Actually, crimes resulting from the intention of vengeance increases in those states in which proper punishment’s are Not given to criminals.

II. The respect for state will disappear from the minds of those who have suffered the Injustice, because they feel that there is no benefit in having loyalty for the state which Fails in safeguarding their rights.


i. As crime is committed not against the individual but against the society and as such Society should check it.

ii. Critics charge it as quite unhealthy because there shall be a never ending circle of Realisation and counter-retaliation.

2. Deterrent Theory

The deterrent theory means that the punishment to Warn, righted and restrain those from committing crime who intend to do so in future. This Theory believes that the offenders should be given exemplary punishment so that they do not Feel encouraged to commit crimes. The supporters of this theory believe that unless harsh and Heavy punishments are: inflicted, crimes cannot be checked. State should determine such Penalty which may prevent crimes and by which criminals may learn lesson. When any Criminal is punished in stern manner, other persons shiver with fear and realise that they should Not indulge themselves into criminal acts otherwise they will also be able to get the same type Opt penalty. The main goal of punishment is to prevent and reduce crimes, and with this objective in view, the deterrent theory is completely in accordance with this purpose.


I. Critics say that this theory cant be accepted, because it is generally believed that Punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed.

II. According to critics, if the purpose of the punishment is accepted to create fear and Terror in others, the measurement of the seriousness of the crime will be the fact as to How much pain has been inflicted by the crime to others, instead of the calculation that How much fear should be attached with it so that others are refrained from doing so.

3. Preventive Theory

The exponents of the theory are of the opinion that unless heavy Punishments are inflicted, crimes cannot be checked. According to the Preventive theory, the Purpose of punishment is to restrict the criminal himself from committing the crime. For Example, if a murderer is given capital punishment, he cannot commit the murder again or if a Thief is imprisoned, he cannot again indulge into the act of theft. In ancient age, sometimes the Punishment of chopping off the hands of the thief was awarded, so that he may not commit Theft again as he is deprived of his hands. In the middle ages, this theory was very popular and Accordingly hands, legs and nose, etc. were cut off for even minor offences.


I. This theory is criticised on number of grounds but even then, critics allege that no individual Is morally so much degraded that his reform becomes impossible so instead of giving Punishment his reform is quite better and desirable. This theory is very much condemned these Days because it is believed that punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed. Moreover, it is also felt that crimes can be reduced not by merely awarding severe punishment But by eliminating the root-cause of the crime. The critics are also of the view that in the event Of error while inflicting the punishment, the possibility of reforming hum and rectifying the Mistake does not remain.

4. Reformative Theory

(Very Important) Reformative theory is the modern theory, which Believes that society is responsible for all crimes. It says that the purpose of the punishment is To reform the criminal, so that he is converted into an useful and healthy citizen who can live Again in the society. This theory is on this presumption that the real cause of any crime is used To be the weakness both in the context of character as well as mental. So diagnosis and treatment Of criminal are essential and required, and not the infliction of punishment. Hospital and not The prison is the proper place for the criminals. It is based on the belief that the society creates Such circumstances which for individuals to commit crimes. According to this theory, modern Individual is only a puppet in the hands of society. Several crimes are committed by him under The pressure of social circumstances beyond his control. This theory wants to reform the Criminals. For preventing crime, reform of character is needed, and if such steps are taken, Crimes can be checked.


I. If the life in the prison will become welcoming, naturally no cranial will like to live Out of the prison. Not only this, he will commit crime repeatedly and like to spend his Time comfortably in the jail

II. Reformative theory may be suitable for proved criminals, but for possible criminals, Preventive element is required which is not possible in the reformative theory.

III. It lays much emphasis on the moral reform of the criminal, but morality cannot be Attained by external measures.

Author: Ayush Srivastava,
Prayag vidhi Mahavidyalaya 1st year / law

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