Four major goals of punishment: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

In Sociology, some people commit acts of deviants or offenses.  These people are often arrested by the police and await their punishment in the court.  Punishment refers to an infliction or penalization as retribution for an offense a person committed in their community and regardless of how bad the crime is committed, the deviants still have to punished for their actions to serve justice in the society. 

There are four major goals of punishment:  Retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, and incapacitation:

  • Retribution: Retribution refers to an assumption of punishment in which a person, who violates the law, deserves to suffer in return by justice and also the tendency for something done to someone so that they can be punished for their actions or crimes against innocent civilians. It’s also important in defining the response to a certain crime committed by a person, should be in correspondence to the offense charges filed against that person for the crime they committed.  In the context of retribution, those people who have a shred of decency or merit in their values and morality loses all of that when they commit a crime and society’s opinion and viewpoint of them turn extremely negative to the point where they believe the people who have violated the law, deserves to be punished in the worst possible way and they don’t deserve any type of benefits to themselves. Retribution aims to serve justice in a way that restores both victim and offender to their appropriate positions while being connected and it’s also necessary as a way to reinforce laws that have been violated as well as balance the level and heights of justice in any society and culture.  Retributions are described as principles and morals in the state of government and law so there have been many discussions about it for decades and years as people continue to engage in debated arguments about it as some people agree with while others disagree and wish for a change in the justice system.  An example of retribution would be a man who ruthlessly and sadistically raped his 12-year-old stepdaughter, ought to be given the death penalty by the court as a harsh way of punishment for his actions. 

  • Deterrence:  Deterrence refers to a process in which society tries to prevent people from committing crimes by threatening them with distress or consternation if they do so.  There are general deterrence and specific deterrence.  General deterrence is defined as the impact of the threat of the legal action on the public at large that correlates with the focus of prevention of any crime itself rather than on people who committed these crimes in the public eyes of society at large.  An example of general deterrence would be a person who did something wrong- and a result- they are made to feel ashamed of themselves by the authorities in public places to prevent other people from following their footsteps and by doing that, many people are careful not to commit any crime in the hopes of avoiding similar punishment.  Specific deterrence tends to focus primarily on any individual or person who committed the crime and the goal of specific deterrence is to discourage and prevent people from committing crimes in the impending and foreseeable future.  An example would be a burglar who breaks into a person’s house in the middle of the night, gets caught by the individual,  arrested by the police, and is sentenced to 5 years in jail. This would make it likely for him to not commit any crimes or offense in the future.  

  • Incapacitation:  Incapacitation is when an offender is ordered by the state officials to be isolated from civilization as long as they are considered a threat and menace to society and community.   Incapacitation is defined as the restriction of an individual’s freedom in society along with their liberties that are quickly thrown out the window when they are accused by the law of committing a crime.  By incapacitating the person, the law prevents them from committing any type of crimes in the future by unfastening them socially from society by locking them far away or restraining them.  Moreover, the different example of incapacitation involves house arrest, capital punishment, or even incarceration decisions made by many courts of the United States including the Supreme Court.

  • Rehabilitation:  The idea behind rehabilitation states the purpose of punishment given to any individual for whatever crime they committed is to apply treatment and training to the person in the hopes of them becoming better because when they eventually become well, they are more than capable of returning to society.  To some people, rehabilitation proves to be significantly better than punishment because it gives an individual a chance to redeem themselves; it makes them aware of their debilitating problems, and with the help of any reliable and useful treatment, it makes them aware of what they did and also teaches them the morality and values of what’s right and what’s wrong- what’s desirable and undesirable- what’s good and what’s bad.   An example of rehabilitation would be when a group of delinquents coercive a pair of young teenagers to believe in crime-causing beliefs. When that happens, there would be a certain type of treatment that eventually causes them to change those beliefs; they could be prevented from committing any more deviant acts or crimes.  

The term “punishment" differs from the term “correction" on how criminal behavior is handled is due to their definitions and how they are applied in the entire context of the law as well as the justice system.  Punishment is defined as the penalty for an individual who has committed an unforgivable act of sin or crime and it’s mostly used as form and sign of retribution by the law for the offense. Punishment proves to be effective only when it’s used appropriately and in a positive way that serves justice and fairness to society for the person’s wrongdoings.  Negative punishment methods, on the other hand, prove to be extremely fruitless and instead of instilling good behavior on the criminals, it would cause a strain on them and make the situation worse.  Correction not only focuses on the punishment and treatment of different offenders but also on those people who operate on different organizations and management whose goal is to treat people who are declared guilty or charged and brought on trial for a crime as individual human beings.


Corrections are similar to discipline in a way that it serves as a guide with limitations and expectations while teaching the criminal and offenders what is appropriate; it provides them with confidence, and responsibility on how to maintain a consistent sense of respecting other people, maintain self-control and make choices in their lives for the betterment of themselves along with society.  Other parts of corrections deal with the substantial amount of study related to criminology; furthermore, it deeply emphasis its study on understanding different prison and the system in which are both related to changing the individual’s behavior over time and the focus of correction isn’t entirely on the perspective of its definition with punishment,  it’s also focused on the philosophical and empirical practice that occurs within and beyond the imprisonment with the inclusion of a different variety of functions typically carried out and used as a primary component in understanding the nature and context of the criminal justice system in any society and culture that changes the criminal’s behavior and attitude in life by monitoring their location and behaviors in prison. 

In the end, a person who is guilty of any crime suffers the consequences from punishment in four different ways and these ways all have their unique perspectives on how the criminal is punished or handled in the name of the law.  Some prove to be extremely effective, and unorthodox and can make the person change their ways of thinking and doing like rehabilitation while others prove to be extremely harsh and unforgiving like incapacitation.  And the correction is defined as the process of how and why the offenders should be handled by different institutions under the name of the law.


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