13 Apr 2022


Sentencing Philosophies and Their Evolution

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Academic level: College

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A sentence is the act of passing judgment on offenders by a judge concerning a particular case. Sentencing is a clear cut intrusion into the lives of the offenders. Sentencing helps to keep offenders away from the public to prevent them from breaking more laws. Sentencing has several philosophies that have evolved to cover new crimes emerging with time. These philosophies are retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and restoration. We shall discuss the role of these sentencing philosophies in administering punishment and how they have evolved. We shall also see how their evolution has impacted correctional agencies.

Retribution and Deterrence. Retributive theory entails punishing the offender the criminal by taking the advantages they may have gained from their unlawful act. It is based on the “an eye for an eye” concept of criminal punishment. This theory was supported by many on the basis that it is wrong to let a wrong doer escape unpunished. Only those found guilty of criminal offences are punished but not those that cannot be held responsible for the wrong actions or the innocent. For instance people with mental problems cannot be punished since they do not know when they are committing a crime. This method helps to restore balance to the society rather than yearning for revenge. The philosophy of deterrence tries to convince people not to commit crimes. For instance when a person decides not to use the wrong side of the road while driving because they will be fines, this is deterrence. There are two types of deterrence; general and specific. Specific is when an offender decides not to commit crimes in future while general deterrence is when a person decides not to commit a crime because he or she saw other offenders getting punished of the crimes and does not want to go through the same.

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Incapacitation and Rehabilitation . This theory generally involves restraining criminals from the public. This method comes in many forms such as prison sentences, house arrest and inpatient treatment. When offenders are placed in prison or not allowed to leave their homes, they are restricted from harming others thus restoring peace and order in the society. In this philosophy, the criminal justice system tries to prevent law breaking by helping offenders learn on how to avoid doing wrong (Benner, 2015). After some time, the offenders are released from prison through parole if the system finds them to be changed in a positive manner.

Restoration. This is our last philosophy to discuss. Restoration is when the offender makes restitution to the victim. This is for example when the criminal offender makes payment for any lost property or damages faced by the victim when committing the crime. This method helps restore previous life of the victim or rather undo the crime (Karmen, 2012). The judge may also add sanctions like cash value, community service or a variety of many other programs to make the victim feel fully compensated and also facilitate in the rehabilitation of the offenders.

Sentencing has evolved in many ways since the old ages where as compared to now, they were more brutal and shaming. Our current system has done a lot to ensure all ranks or classes of people are evenly punished when they wrong. This has seen the change of judgment being passed in court with the accused being given the option of having a lawyer rather than one bias person deciding the case. It is by this development that the different philosophies of punishment came into being to accommodate the different levels of crime. Prisons were also not left out as they had to be divided into male and female prisons (Zehr, 2015). This was passed to create fairness of the accused while they serve their jail term and prevent more crimes amongst inmates. Juvenile jails also came into being to hold young offenders who have not attained the required ‘adult’ age in their respective countries. These jails prevent the young from being molested as is the case when they were being locked up in adult prisons.


Zehr, Howard.  The little book of restorative justice: Revised and updated . Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., 2015.

Karmen, Andrew.  Crime victims: An introduction to victimology . Cengage Learning, 2012.

Benner, Thorsten, et al. "Effective and responsible protection from atrocity crimes: toward global action." (2015).

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 16). Sentencing Philosophies and Their Evolution.


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