Home Study Materials Punishment: Definition, Theories, and Forms

Punishment: Definition, Theories, and Forms

In a layman’s language, Punishment is an unpleasant imposition on a person as an outcome of their inappropriate or unacceptable behavior in a society. In legal terms, it could be defined as the immediate outcome of illegal activity or act done by a person.

Let us discuss some theories or types of punishment to understand it better.

  1. Deterrent Theory is the first type that follows the policy of “an eye for an eye” or in simple terms, a punishment is bestowed only for the sake of giving it. If you’ve done something wrong, you’re liable to face the music. Now, there are subparts to this theory too. First is the specific deterrence where the criminal is given the punishment to make them realize their mistake and educate them about it. The second is general deterrence where it is done to avoid the further occurrence of crime.
  2. Retributive Theory is the oldest theory of punishment where the punishment is given because they have done a wrongful act and if not, then they should not be given any form of punishment. The drawback of this punishment however is that it fails to identify certain crimes since it’s too stringent and thinks every crime is either black or white.
  3. Preventive Theory is more towards the stringent side where if an offender repeats the same crime would be liable to lifetime imprisonment, exile, and even death penalty, depending on the seriousness/graveness of the crime.
  4. Reformative Theory comes from a very optimistic idea of “reformation”. The makers of this theory believed that a person can be reformed to a much better version of themselves through various ways, finally making them a good citizen of the country.

Now, let’s move on to the forms of punishment. In total, there are five forms of punishment:

  1. Capital Punishment is the first-degree punishment that is bestowed upon those criminals who have committed the biggest of the biggest crime. This is why it is also called the “rarest of the rarest punishment”. The most recent case would be the four rapists in the Nirbhaya Case.
  2. Imprisonment is the second form of punishment and most common one. It might extend to years and even decades depending upon the severity of their crime.
  3. Probation is a form of punishment where a person might not be sent to jail but is kept under strict supervision. It could be camera monitoring or house arrest.
  4. Fines is one of the lenient as well as stringent punishment depending upon the amount of fine imposed on a person.
  5. Restitution and Community Service are both a kind of reformative punishment where a person is asked to contribute to society through food drives or working for some charity to help them become a better person in society. If a person has committed a less grave punishment, then he might be asked to write a sincere apology or letter which comes under restitution.


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