File Copyright Online - File mutual Divorce in Delhi - Online Legal Advice - Lawyers in India

Exploring the Key Theories of Punishment: Understanding Approaches to Criminal Justice

In layman's language, Punishment means the imposition of a penalty charged to the wrong-doer for the offense done. The term "Punishment" is related to criminal justice. Punishment is a way of ceasing the wrong-doer from doing the crime again. It creates fear in the mind of the wrong-doer while committing the crime again. It is said to be a social control.

The main objective of punishing a person for his offense is to imbibe good values in him and educate him about the wrongdoing which led him to the punishment of various types such as penalties, fines, being hanged to death, and imprisonment. But one should be aware of all the theories regarding punishment for serious crimes. So, the author discusses various theories of punishment in this article.

Let us understand the different Theories of Punishment:

Theories of Punishment
Retributive Theory of Punishment
The Retributive Theory of Punishment is said to be the most ancient theory. The word "retribute" means to pay back, to give in return. This states that the Retributive Theory believes in giving the wrongdoer the same kind of pain or suffering that he had given the victim while committing the crime. It is based on the principle of "An eye for an eye." The beliefs of the theory are based on tit for tat. The Retributive Theory of Punishment is also known as the Vengeance Theory. This theory appears to be the best kind of punishment for all rapists, murderers, and heinous criminals.

The criticism that the Retributive Theory of Punishment faces is that punishing the wrongdoer, in the same way, is not a remedy for the misconduct done. Taking revenge is no way to get justice. It only makes the offender more dangerous.

The retributive Theory of Punishment was used in the Nirbhaya Delhi Rape case, where the Supreme Court ordered death for four out of six criminals for their unimaginable heinous crime of rape.

Deterrent Theory of Punishment
The Deterrent Theory of Punishment is said to be the most beneficial theory. The word "deter" means to abstain from doing any wrongful act. The main objective of this theory is to stop, to prevent the wrongdoer from committing the crime again or repeating the wrongful act. It believes in creating fear in the mind of a criminal by punishing him. It sets an example in front of society regarding if any kind of such crime is committed then the wrongdoer won't be just left but also, he will be punished severely as per the crime committed.

Deterrent Theory of Punishment consists of three main components which are as follows:
It focuses on the levels of the strictness of the punishment. Severity doesn't mean that a person should always be punished with extensive punishments. Sometimes where the crime is not too heinous then the penalty can also be charged as a way of punishment.


It means that punishments should be given to criminals whenever they commit crimes in any form. Punishments should be imposed.

The punishment for any crime should be swift to abstain from the crime. The quicker the punishment is awarded and obligatory, the it has more effect to abstain from crime.

The criticism that the Deterrent Theory of Punishment faces is that it is ineffective in recent modern times as criminals who can fearlessly commit dangerous crimes will not be afraid of the punishments. These criminals are just not worth any leniency.

Preventive Theory of Punishment
The preventive theory of punishment aims to prevent the repetition of the crime by rendering the actual offender incapable of again committing the offense. It believes in physical restraint. The Preventive theory of punishment can be inflicted in several ways. This theory punishes criminals by death sentence or life imprisonment as per the crime committed.

The criticism that the Preventive Theory of Punishment faces is that it has got the undesirable effect of making first offenders more hardened criminals in the event of imprisoning them for a long period.

Preventive Theory of Punishment was observed in the case Surjit Singh v. State of Punjab, a policeman was one of the accused who had entered the house of the deceased person to commit rape but couldn't do it as the sons of the deceased shouted for help. The other accused said the policeman to kill the deceased. The accused was held liable under section 450 of the Indian Penal Code. While conversely, the death sentence is more of a temporary form of disablement.

Reformative Theory of Punishment
The word "Reformative" means an effort to restore a man to society as a better and wiser man and a good citizen. The main aim of this theory is to make a person a useful member of society by bringing about change in his character. This theory believes in positivity. It focuses on the positive theory that is bringing a reformation in the character of the offender. The Reformative Theory of Punishment admits only those types of punishment that are educative and disciplined for the criminals. This theory is against the punishment which inflicts pain on the offender.

The criticism that the Reformative Theory of Punishment faces is that it is impossible to reform hardened criminals. These criminals do not understand the language of positivity and gentleness.

Compensatory Theory of Punishment
The word "compensate" is to pay back in recognition of the loss, suffering, or injury incurred. The main objective of this theory is to compensate the victim of the crime, his family. It aims at self-realization that is if the wrong-doer realizes his guilt after committing the crime then he should be forgiven. But he should compensate the victim. It is said that the Compensatory Theory of Punishment is a true essence of Deterrent, Reformative Theories of Punishment.

The Compensatory Theory of Punishment was observed in the landmark case DK Basu v. State of West Bengal, where the Supreme Court held that a victim has the right to get compensated as a Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

The criticism that the Compensatory Theory of Punishment faces is that it oversimplifies the main objective of the crime.

The author concludes by stating that no theory of punishment is said to be perfect to prove beneficial to criminals and society. Understanding the different theories of punishment, it is clear that these theories are also not mutually exclusive. Punishments will actually either make a person realize his wrong-doings and help him to be a better person or will make a person a hardened type of criminal. So, it is always suggested that punishments should be carefully inflicted on the offender.

  • Raunak Chaturvedi. (2020, November 19). Theories of punishment - a thorough study.
  • Theories of Punishment
  • Theories and Kinds of Punishment
Written By:  Hemlata Ruparam Mali

Law Article in India

Ask A Lawyers

You May Like

Legal Question & Answers

Lawyers in India - Search By City

Copyright Filing
Online Copyright Registration


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi Mutual Consent Divorce is the Simplest Way to Obtain a D...

Increased Age For Girls Marriage


It is hoped that the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which intends to inc...

Facade of Social Media


One may very easily get absorbed in the lives of others as one scrolls through a Facebook news ...

Section 482 CrPc - Quashing Of FIR: Guid...


The Inherent power under Section 482 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (37th Chapter of t...

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India: A...


The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a concept that proposes the unification of personal laws across...

Role Of Artificial Intelligence In Legal...


Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing various sectors of the economy, and the legal i...

Lawyers Registration
Lawyers Membership - Get Clients Online

File caveat In Supreme Court Instantly