Descriptions of the Different Aims of Sentencing

Updated March 17, 2017

"An eye for an eye," "let the punishment fit the crime"; these are two expressions commonly used to express the aims of sentencing. Although many focus solely on the punishment aspect of sentencing, in actuality, sentencing ideally serves several purposes. The aims of sentencing can differ depending on the crime, offender and government.


Sentencing aims to deter people from committing crimes by showing that criminal violations will result in appropriate punishment. Sentencing aims to deter the offender from committing future crimes by adequately punishing the criminal for his acts. The theory is that the punishment will influence him to abstain from committing additional crimes. Deterring the general public from committing crime is another aim of sentencing. The presumption is that others will witness the punishment inflicted upon the offender and as a result abstain from committing crimes to avoid similar punishment.


Retribution is another aim of sentencing. Retribution is the theory that an offender should receive the punishment she deserves. This aim here is to impose a sentence that is equal to the crime. Accordingly, the nature of the crime is the primary consideration. Additionally, the punishment must reflect the public's outrage and disapproval and show that the crime is not tolerated by society. Under the retribution principle, sentencing is a reflection of the society's moral values.


Incapacitation is the act of making it physically impossible for a criminal to commit additional crimes. Incapacitation focuses on the offender's potential to commit future crimes. The more likely the criminal is to commit future offences, the harsher the sentence imposed. Accordingly, incapacitation takes into consideration the characteristics of the offender.

Imprisonment and execution are the typical forms of incapacitation. Incapacitation usually takes the form of imprisonment and execution is reserved for crimes viewed as the most heinous. The ultimate purpose of incapacitation is to protect the community from repeat offenders.


Another aim of sentencing is rehabilitation. Rehabilitation refers to the desire to change the offender so that she will not commit additional crimes. Rehabilitation seeks to serve the interests of the offender by keeping her out of the criminal system. It also serves the interests of the community by promoting public safety. Rehabilitation is often a primary aim when sentencing young offenders and low level criminals.


Reparation is another aim of sentencing. Reparations focus more on the victims of crime rather than the offenders. The purpose of reparations is to compensate the victim for the injury caused by the offender with the goal of making the victim as close to whole as possible. Accordingly, reparations focus on the victim's need for compensation rather than the offender. Types of reparation sentences include victim compensation where offenders are forced to pay monetary compensation to victims and community service.

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About the Author

Based in Atlanta, Renee Kristi has been writing since 2001 and her work now appears on various websites. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Spelman College and a Juris Doctor from Georgia State University College of Law.