Aims of Punishment

People are punished for a purpose. Often the aims of a punishment overlap, eg the death penalty acts to deter people from committing similar crimes and it aims to protect the public from the individual who is guilty of the crime. Here are the six recognised aims of punishment:

  • deterrence – punishment should put people off committing crime
  • protection – punishment should protect society from the criminal and the criminal from themselves
  • reformation – punishment should reform the criminal
  • retribution – punishment should make the criminal pay for what they have done wrong
  • reparation – punishment should compensate the victim(s) of a crime
  • vindication – the punishment makes sure that the law is respected

Task: Write down the key words and their definitions.

Task: What types of punishment are used in UK law?

There are five main types of sentence that the court can pass:

  1. Discharge

When the court decides someone is guilty of an offence, but decides not to hand down a criminal conviction at this time, they will be given a ‘discharge’.

Discharges are primarily given for minor offences.

There are two types of discharge:

  • An ‘absolute discharge’ means that no more action will be taken
  • A ‘conditional discharge’ means that the offender won’t be punished unless they commit another offence within a set period of time determined by the court (up to a period of 3 years). If the offender breaches the conditional discharge by committing a further offence within the specified discharge period they can be re-sentenced for the original offence and sentenced additionally for the new offence.
  1. A fine and compensation

Fines are the most common criminal sentence. They’re usually given for less serious crimes that don’t merit a community or prison sentence, or in some circumstances fines are imposed as an alternative to a community sentence.

How much someone is fined depends on the severity of the crime and the offender’s ability to pay.

If the offence causes harm to a victim, the offender can also be required to pay compensation. A compensation order can be imposed as a sentence without any other penalty

  1. Disqualification from driving and penalty points

Any court may disqualify an offender from driving on conviction for any offence, either in addition to or instead of any other sentence. It is not a requirement of disqualification that the offence is connected with the use of a motor vehicle.

Penalty points can be added to the offender’s driver’s licence upon conviction for many motoring offences. Depending on they type of licence held and the number of points imposed, this can lead to an offender being disqualified from driving for a period of time.

  1. A community sentence

Community sentences are imposed for offences which are too serious for a discharge or a fine to be imposed but not so serious that a custodial sentence must be imposed.

Community sentences place requirements on offenders that they must comply with.

The court will decide which combination of these requirements will most effectively punish the offender for their crime, while also reducing the risk of them offending again.

An offender who receives a community sentence can be ordered to undertake one or more of the following requirements:

  • Undertake between 40 and 300 hours of unpaid work
  • Comply with an electronically monitored curfew during hours imposed by the court for a specified period
  • Have regular supervision meetings with a probation officer
  • Complete an accredited programme for issues such as domestic abuse or sexual offending
  • Complete a course of treatment for drug or alcohol addiction
  • Complete a specified activity requirement
  • Comply with a residency requirement
  • Comply with an exclusion requirement
  • Comply with a prohibited activity requirement
  • Comply with a mental health treatment requirement
  • Go to an attendance centre for a specified number of hours. This is only available for offenders aged under 25

If an offender doesn’t adhere to the terms of their community sentence, they can be sent back to court and given an additional requirement or extended requirement or a fine as a punishment. In some circumstances the community sentence can be revoked and the defendant will be re-sentenced.

  1. A prison sentence

Prison sentences are handed down by a court when an offence is so serious that it is deemed to be the only suitable punishment.

A prison sentence will also be given when the court believes the public must be protected from the offender.

There are three different types of prison sentence:

  • Suspended sentence
  • Determinate sentence
  • Indeterminate sentence (including life sentences)

Task: Create a table and complete with types of sentence and which of the aims of punishment it is fulfilling.

SentenceWhich aims of punishment it meets

Task: Does the Bible quotation ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ support retribution or reformation? Explain your answer.

Task: Watch the documentary.

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