Theories of Punishment

Theories of Punishment

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 offense 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.

There are five  theories of Punishment

Deterrent Theory of Punishment

One of the primary methods of punishments believes in the facts that if severe punishment will inflict on the offender would deter him from repeating that crime

The purpose of deterrent theory is to set an example of each defendant because it frightens the citizens to not do what the defendant did. The reason behind this was to avoid future crimes. In India, inhuman punishments such as mutilation, beheading, flogging were in vogue till the end of the 18th century.

Retributive Theory of Punishment

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 rod, then his legs will also be break by the person by beating him with the rod.


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


Preventive Theory of Punishment

The idea behind this theory was the prevention of repetition of crime by disabling the offender though 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 theory does not lay much emphasis on the motive of the wrongdoer but tries to take away his physical power to commit the offense.

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 heart 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.

Theories of Punishment

Reformative Theory 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 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 of 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 five theories are the Theories of Punishment.


Forms of Punishment

Corporal punishment


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 offenses like drunkenness vagrancy, etc.



It was also practiced 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 forehead 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 in a public place for the execution of the sentence. Afterward, he could even be publicly stoned if the offense was a serious nature. This is still used as a mode of punishment for sex-offender in Islamic countries.


Fines and confiscation of property

The offenses not serious in nature were punished with a fine. A part of 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 which 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 alternative to punish the criminal on their behaviors 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 the parole conditions.

The 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 his good behavior. 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 behavior in the jail and if the parole board satisfied only then the person can be released on parole.

Once the parole is granted, the person or the parolee promises to remain in 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 put again in the bars.

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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 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 in 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 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 the probation, the person is not put behinds the bars. It is an alternative to prison. In probation, the court suspends the sentence of an offender on certain conditions to live in the 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.



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