Theories of Punishment

The importance of theories of punishment has been recognized even in ancient times for the protection and welfare of the State and its people. In ancient India, the King was duty-bound to punish the offender. The purpose of the administration of criminal justice is to punish the offender. The state is the main body that punishes Criminals. Punishment is some kind of pain or loss given to the offender for his criminal act which may either be intended to deter him from repeating the offence or maybe an expression of society’s disapprobation for his anti-social conduct or it may also be directed to reform and regenerate him and at the time protect the society from law-breakers. The topic, theories of punishment will give you all the information about the theories and forms of punishment.

Why do people obey the law?

If you are aware of the fact that you will not get caught by the police if you did any crime, will you the crime? Many of us may try to steal little things if possible. But what about major crimes? The punishment was made so that people should afraid to do the crime. Now, there are some theories of punishment that were used or being used for deterring the criminals.

Theories of Punishment

There are many theories of Punishment. Some of the theories of punishment were uses in ancient times but now, they are not uses are regular. Let’s starts with the Deterrent theory of Punishment.

Deterrent theory of punishment

Bentham is known as the founder of the deterrent theory of punishment.

According to the deterrent theory of punishment, if severe punishment will inflict on the offender would deter him from repeating that crime and discourage the people to do commit that crime.

The main purpose of the deterrent theory of punishment is to set an example for each defendant because it frightens the citizens to not do what the defendant did. The reason behind this was to avoid future crimes. If any of the people doing this crime, the person will be punished in the same way as the first was punished.

Three major components of the deterrent theory

Severity- The punishment must be severe so that the people should afraid to do the crime and obey the law.

Certainty- the punishment must happen every time when the crime occurs.

Swiftness- The punishment must be given fast in order to make it more deterrent.

After knowing these facts, the person will think 10times before doing the crime. Although the deterrent theory was harsh, it was considered the deterrent theory as the best theory of punishment as the crime rate was very low due to this theory of punishment. In India, inhuman punishments such as mutilation, beheading, flogging were in vogue till the end of the 18th century.

Retributive Theory of Punishment

The retributive theory of punishment is also known as the “Theory of Vengeance”. This theory was based on natural justice, which is expressed by the maxim an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”. It means that the pain to be inflicted on the offender of the act in the same way as he did. For example, if any person breaks the legs of another person by beating him with the rod, then his legs will also be break by the person by beating him with the rod.

In the retributive theory of punishment, the punishment is seen as a payback of the crime which is done by the criminal. The main advantage of the retributive theory is that the punishment will only give to the person who deserves this.

But the disadvantage of this theory was that the person who is taking revenge on the criminal is also doing the same crime which is not good in our point of view.

“An eye for an eye would turn the whole world blind”- Mahatma Gandhi.


Preventive Theory of Punishment

The idea behind the preventive theory of punishment was the prevention of repetition of crime by disabling the offender through some measures such as forfeiture, imprisonment, suspension of licenses, etc.

The preventive theory seeks to take away the physical power of the offender and stop him from doing the crime. This preventive theory of punishment does not lay much emphasis on the motive of the wrongdoer but tries to take away his physical power to commit the offence.

Modes of preventive theory

There are mainly three modes of the preventive theory of punishment.

  • The criminal was punished to create fear in the public to stay away from the crime.
  • To disable the criminal temporary or permanently so that he should not do the crime again.
  • By transforming the criminal separately by the use of rehabilitation so that the person should not do the crime again.

Expiatory Theory of Punishment

The expiatory theory was based on morality. Therefore, many jurists have been refused to consider it as the legal theory of punishment. This theory is more related to ancient religious perceptions regarding crime and punishment when prisoners were placed in the isolated cells to repent for their crime from the core of their hearts and resolve to shun crime.

It was believed that anyone who sincerely represents for his act, deserves to be forgiven and let off.

This theory, being based on ethical consideration, has lost its relevance in the modern system of punishment.

Incapacitation theory of punishment

The incapacitation theory was used to punish the person so that the next generation fears committing any crime. The theory was work by removing that wrongdoer from society either temporary or permanent. This theory restricts that person from doing any physical work. But, if the crime done by that person is very heinous, capital punishment is also applied.

Reformative Theory of Punishment

This is one of the best theories of punishment. The theory of reformative emphasizes on reformation of the offender through the method of individualization. This theory is based on the principle of the humanistic that even if an offender commits any crime, he does not cease to be a human being. Therefore, the offender should be reform during the period of his imprisonment. The reason behind this theory is to reform the offender by eliminating his motive for the crime and to give him another chance to live a normal life again.

So, this is not a punishment in reality but rather a rehabilitative process. Thus, this process helps in making a criminal person a good citizen as much as possible.

These are the Theories of Punishment given under the law.

Forms of Punishment

After reading about the various theories of punishment. Now let’s read the various forms of punishment that were used in ancient times to punish criminal minds.

Corporal punishment

It is a kind of discipline method where minor pain was given to the person so that he should obey the law.


Flogging or whipping was being used as a common mode of punishment in middle-east countries until recent years. It did not serve any useful purpose in the case of hardened criminals and recidivists. However, it proved effective in the case of minor offences like drunkenness vagrancy, etc.


It was also practised in ancient India during the Hindu Period. In case of theft, one or both the hands of the offender were chopped off, and in the case of rape; his private part was cut off.


In this punishment, the criminals were branded with appropriate on their foreheads so that they could be easily identified.


In this punishment, the liberty and mobility of criminals were completely restricted. The hands and legs of criminals were tied with iron rods and chained together.


The criminal was brought to a public place for the execution of the sentence. Afterwards, he could even be publicly stoned if the offence was of serious nature. This is still used as a mode of punishment for sex-offender in Islamic countries.

Fines and confiscation of property

The offences not serious in nature were punished with a fine. A part of the fine may be paid as compensation to the victim for the injury caused to him on account of the crime.


The practice of deporting offenders was commonly in vogue in British India. Also, it was popularly known as “Kalapani”.


Imprisonment can be simple or rigorous. This is the most common form of punishment that is used all around the world.

Imprisonment for life

In the case of Kartik Biswas V. UOI, the SC has made it clear that life imprisonment is not equivalent to imprisonment for 14 years or 20 years as there is no provision in IPC or Cr PC whereby life imprisonment could be treated as imprisonment for 14 years or 20 years without there being a formal remission by the appropriate Government.

Modern alternatives to Punishment

In modern times we also use some alternatives to punish the criminal on their behaviours and the degree of their crimes.


The origin of parole is from French which means “the promise made by the prisoner to the jailor at the time of their early release to abide the certain conditions.” The prisoner is deemed to be free from his sentence if he abides by the parole conditions.

Parole was introduced in the mid-19th century in the Norfolk Island Penal colony. At starting, the prisoners were used to earn some points and incentives through the work and their good behaviour. Once the prisoner is able to get enough marks he could be released from the prison on a ticket to leave. This could be revoked at any time if the person does any illegal things outside the prison.

Procedure for parole

The parole is granted after the reviews of the parole board. The board members check the history of the convict and if they found that the person is doing well throughout his sentence the person can be released on parole on certain conditions.

The parole can only be granted to the person after the reviews of the parole board. The board checks the history of the convict and his behaviour in the jail and if the parole board is satisfied only then the person can be released on parole.

Once the parole is granted, the person or the parolee promises to remain within certain limits and follow the entire release plan. The parolee must report his parole officer during his parole duration.

Parole officer

parole officer is an individual who checks the activities of the parolee after his release on parole. The parole officer also helps the person with financial and social issues if he needs it. If the parolee fails to comply with the conditions imposed on him, the parole will be revoked and the person will be put again in bars.

Parole in India

In India, there are two types of parole-

Custody Parole

This is temporary parole that is limited only for the emergency conditions like the death in the family of any prisoner, the marriage of a family member, serious illness, etc. the custody parole is only for six hours, during this time the prisoner is allowed to visit the desired places and return back to the prison. The prisoner will be escorted by a police constable for public safety and to assure that he will come back to the prison timely. The grant for custody parole is subjected to verification from the concerned police station.

Regular Parole

This parole is granted for a maximum period of 1 month except in the cases where the convict has served at least one year of his imprisonment.

Grounds for allocation of Regular Parole-

  1. The marriage of a family member of a convict
  2. Death of accident of family member
  3. Serious illness of a family member
  4. Delivery of a child by his wife
  5. Severe damage to the property or life of the convict’s family
  6. Filing an SLP by the convict’s family

Convicts which are not eligible for being released on Parole are who is:

  1. Involving in criminal activities against the state
  2. The threat to national security.
  3. Not citizens of India.
  4. Convict of multiple murders or for murder & rape of children.


Under probation, the person is not put behind the bars. It is an alternative to prison. In probation, the court suspends the sentence of an offender on certain conditions to live in a society with or without the supervision of the probation officer.

The probation was introduced in India in 1958 bypassing the Central Probation Act. Section 562 of the Crpc also talks about the release of the offender on probation. It is to be noted that the probation is applied only to juvenile delinquents or the first offenders.

Conclusion for theories of punishment

The theories of punishment gave the bare idea that how the old people were dealing with the Crimes. At the present time, though the crime is being more heinous, still we are using simple methods of punishment so that the criminal should take one more chance to save his life.

Laws and punishment should be made according to the need of society. In today’s time, it happens much time that the person is not guilty but still he is stuck in the case. That is why our law is not very strict so that the innocent should not be punished.

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