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Either Punishment Or Reform: Potential For New Approach

India's criminal justice system has been a hotly debated subject recently. That whether system must priorities punishment or reform is one of the key questions. "The two strategies' objectives, workings, and efficacy are different. While some contend that punishment is essential to prevent crime and uphold the rule of law, others think that reforms is a more effective strategy to lower crime and advance reintegration. Both strategies will be carefully examined in this essay, along with their advantages and disadvantages, and any ramifications for the criminal justice system."

The conventional method of criminal justice is punishment. "The Indian penal Code (IPC) stipulates a range of penalties for crimes, including as incarceration, fines, and in rare circumstances, even the death sentence." "The notion is that individuals who fear punishment won't commit crimes, and those who do will face punishment proportionate to the damage they have caused. The death penalty is one of the many possible punishments, in addition to fines, incarceration, and community service[i]."

Arguments for punishment

"Punishment proponents contend that criminals need to answer for their conduct and suffer the proper repercussions. "they think that punishment acts as both a kind of revenge for victims and their families and a deterrent to criminal behaviour. Some also contend that punishment might provide victims closure and aid in their recovery first from trauma they have endured. The message that punishment sends to society is that illegal behaviour will not be tolerated is another justification for punishment."

"The system upholds societal standards and contributes to social order by punishing criminals. Moreover, punishment might work as a deterrent to future criminals, making them reconsider their intentions to commit crimes. punishment is subject to a number of critiques, though. One is that it frequently fails to deter crime. Since they do not believe they will be caught or because the prospective penalties do not dissuade them, many criminals continue to commit crimes in spite of the possibility of punishment. They contend that these penalties are frequently severe and unfair, especially for low-level infractions.

Moreover, they contend that punishment does not tackle the fundamental factors that contribute to crime, such as deprivation of opportunities, inequality, and poverty. Moreover, punishment may be costly, particularly when it entails jail. Last but not least, punishment may be viewed as a type of retaliation rather than justice, which can feed vicious cycles of pain and violence ."

Recent research, however, indicates that just enforcing the law does not effectively discourage crime. "In reality, harsh punishment may increase crime because criminals may turn to riskier or more aggressive behaviour as a result of their increased desperation. The root causes of crime, such as poverty, inequality, and a lack of opportunity and education, are not addressed by punishment either".


Contrarily, reform is a relatively modern strategy to the criminal justice system. The humanitarian notion that a perpetrator does not cease to be a human being simply because he conducts a crime serves as its foundation. Reform-oriented strategies prioritise addressing the root causes of crime and supporting offenders' rehabilitation. Instead than only punishing offenders, it seeks to rehabilitate them and stop future criminal behaviour.

Initiatives for reform may include employment training, counselling, addiction treatment, and education. The theory holds that criminals may become law-abiding citizens by treating the root reasons of their criminal behaviour, such as poverty, addiction, and mental illness. According to "reform theory," a punishment should be severe enough to result in a change in the offender.[ii]

Arguments for reform
"Reformers contend that the criminal justice system need to put more emphasis on rehabilitating criminals and addressing the root causes of their criminal conduct." They think that a large number of criminals have gone through trauma, poverty, and other challenging situations that have influenced their criminal behaviour.

Hence, the system should offer offenders opportunities to assist them change their life rather than just penalising them. These resources should include education, job training, mental health services, and other support. Another justification for change is that disadvantaged groups, notably persons of colour and the poor, are disproportionately impacted by the existing system.[iii]

According to research, even for non-violent acts, there is a higher likelihood of arrest, conviction, and incarceration in these neighbourhoods. "Reform proponents contend that the system must concentrate on resolving structural disparities and establishing a fairer and more equitable society."

Reform-oriented methods to criminal justice have been implemented by many nations worldwide, and there is proof that suggests that these systems are more effective at deterring crime and fostering rehabilitation. Norway, for instance, has one of the lowest rates of crime worldwide and bases its criminal justice system more on rehabilitation than on punishment.[iv]

"There have been multiple initiatives in India to change the criminal justice system, especially with regard to juvenile justice." "Instead of focusing on punishment for young offenders, the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2015 places more of an emphasis on rehabilitation and social reintegration". As well as establishing juvenile justice boards and appointing child welfare officers, the Act also outlines child-friendly processes and procedures.

Yet, there is still more to be done to improve India's criminal justice system. This entails enhancing underprivileged groups' access to justice, resolving the underlying causes of crime, and encouraging offenders' rehabilitation and social reintegration. It also necessitates a change in public perceptions of crime and punishment, as well as an understanding that punishment is insufficient to deter crime and advance justice.

Reform, but, has its detractors as well. One is that finding efficient programmes and treatments can be challenging. Certain programmes may be inefficient or even destructive, and what works for one offender might not work for another. Also, when it comprises non-punitive measures like community service or restitution, reform might be perceived as being overly soft or forgiving. Lastly, others contend that only particular sorts of offenders�such as those who are non-violent or have only committed small offenses�can benefit from reform[v]

Efficacy of reform and punishment

"According to research, deterring crime and recidivism may be accomplished through both reform and punishment. The success of each strategy, however, is dependent on the particular situation and the offender in question."

"Recidivism rates have been demonstrated to be reduced through reform initiatives that include mental health care, job training, and education. These initiatives lessen the risk that repeat offenders would commit crimes by assisting them in acquiring the knowledge and tools necessary to function successfully in society."

"On the contrary hand, punishment has the power to stop criminal activity and make criminals answerable for their deeds. Yet, other factors that may affect the efficacy of the penalty include its harshness and the circumstances of the infraction. In especially for non-violent acts, research indicates that too severe sanctions might actually make repeat offenders more likely."

Implication for criminal justice system

The criminal justice system is significantly impacted by the argument between reform versus punishment. The decision between the two strategies can influence the laws, punishments, and rehabilitation programmes and procedures. It may also reflect greater social ideals of fairness, justice, and retribution.

A shift in emphasis from punishment to prevention might be one result of the reform vs. punishment argument. The criminal justice system might engage in initiatives that deal with the roots of criminal behaviour rather than only penalising criminals after they have broken the law. Initiatives to lower poverty, enhance education, and increase employment prospects may be included in this.

Another option is a fusion model that combines aspects of both strategies. For instance, some jurisdictions have put in place restorative justice initiatives that prioritise making amends for the harm a crime has caused while simultaneously tackling the root cause of the offender's behaviour. These initiatives strive to offer a more comprehensive and efficient response to criminal behaviour by involving both the offender and the victim as well as other members of the community.[vi]

Crime is viewed from the perspective of restorative justice as a conflict that creates a gap or "rent" in the urban cohesiveness of the community." Instead of the nation and its laws taking centre stage, the focus is still on the parties to the dispute, openness, accountability, and negotiating suitable remedies and, to the greatest degree possible, the restoration of the harm.

As crime includes, affects, and even impedes the community, including and enabling individuals to participate in the resolution of criminal conflicts that arise in their communities might counter this trend. This will minimise the perception that the neighbourhood can do little to stop the crime that takes place there. "Mediation between victims and offenders has the capacity to drastically change this relationship. Victim-offender mediation, often referred to as victim-offender conferencing, victim-offender reconciliation, or victim-offender discussion, is one of the most blatant manifestations of restorative justice.

In North America and Europe, this idea is spreading more and more. Nevertheless, restorative justice gives a whole different perspective on crime and victims through which to see and approach them. Restorative justice distinguishes three client groups beyond the offender-driven paradigm: the offenders, the affected communities, and the individual victims."

In essence, it is crucial to have a conversation about punishment vs. change in India's criminal justice system. There are arguments on both sides of the reform vs. punishment issue, which is intricate and varied. Although each strategy has advantages and disadvantages, a hybrid model that combines aspects of both strategies is possible. The criminal justice system may contribute to a more just and equitable society by putting an emphasis on rehabilitation and correcting structural injustices, while simultaneously holding offenders accountable and handing down suitable punishments.

  1. S.M.Afshal Qadri, Criminology penology and victimology 246-257,2017
  2. Manupatra,
  3. Sonakshi Chinda, Reformative theory of punishment -Analyzing the status in India, vol 4 issue 3,Ijlmh,1114-1119(2021),
  4. Ipleader,
  5. Sindhuza M.S, Reformative theory of India � An Analysis of the need for a revision, vol6, issue 9 5919,5920(2017)
  6. Lawctopus,

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