Legal Studies 3080

The Objectives of Sentencing


Most societies of the past had a very simple approach to dealing with offenders; such people were simply punished - often by inflicting on them the same offence they had inflicted on someone else; in other words, "an eye for an eye".

Punishments of this sort also, of course, help deter others from committing similar crimes - a second objective in sentencing. For this reason, in many societies punishment was carried out in public - public executions, public floggings, and the displaying of criminals in public places to be humiliated and serve as object lessons.

In the area of criminal justice, it is possible to distinguish four distinct, but related, objectives to sentencing convicted criminals. A judge must consider all four of them whenever imposing a sentence.


  • Retribution - this is the oldest reason for punishing an offender. The objective of retribution reflects society's view - and most people's sense of justice - that offenders should suffer for the harm they have done to others.

  • Deterrence - is another very traditional reason for punishment. The hope is that punishment handed out to those who commit offences will deter others from committing similar offences.

  • Segregation - the purpose of this segregation is to keep offenders away from other people they might harm. The objective is achieved primarily by putting criminals into prisons.

  • Rehabilitation - the most modern of the objectives of sentencing, rehabilitation aims at helping offenders to give up their criminal lifestyles and to become productive, contributing members of society.