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Goals of Sentencing

Updated on December 13, 2017

by Amber Maccione

Sentencing Goals

The five goals of sentencing are punishment, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and restitution.

Punishment is based on the concept of an eye for an eye where the punishment must be equal or fair to the crime that was committed. Punishment is to return a criminal to what is morally acceptable to society, basically saying the crime committed was wrong and is not morally acceptable. Because the criminal committed a crime, he needs to do the time through retribution (Seiter 2011 p. 28). Although most of society agrees that punishment is a logical result for someone who commits crimes, there are issues with the punishment fitting the crime because of plea bargaining, being judged by past offenses, and even bias based on race (Worrall 2008 p. 39).

Deterrence | Source

Deterrence focuses on future rather than the present. It hopes to stop crime from happening again. It is seen as two fold in that it can help deter persons from committing more crime due to what they just felt (specific deterrence) and to also deter others from committing crime in the first place (general deterrence) because the pain outweighs the pleasure (Seiter 2011 p. 30). Although deterrence can be seen as favorable in regards that it is trying to prevent more crime from happening, it is asking for all criminals to be able to weigh out the pros and cons and make the right decision to not commit the crime. Another unfavorable thing is that criminals have substance abuse problems, which lead to them committing crime again. Lastly, it is easy to get away with crime. Statistics show that more people get away with crime than are caught, hence leading criminals to think they can get away with it (Worrall 2008 p. 38).

Incapacitation is to put criminals behind bars in an effort to hold them from possibly committing more havoc in the community. The logic is if a criminal is taken out of society, they cannot commit more crimes within the community (Seiter 2011 p. 31-32). Incapacitation is ideal for the community because it removes the problem. But this goal is very costly if kept humane. Tax payers have to pay to house them and feed them. It lowers the cost that crime would cost society, but still causes society to pay for their incarceration. The other problem is that it doesn’t give the individual the opportunity to change and show they have become a better part of society (Worrall 2008 p. 39-40).

Rehabilitation | Source

Rehabilitation focuses on returning the criminal back into the community by helping them change into a productive member; and therefore, the logic says they will not commit crime again (Seiter 2011 p. 32). I like to think that all people are capable of change. Rehabilitation gives them that option, but many people either choose not to change or are incapable of it (Worrall 2008 p. 40).

Which sentencing goal do you believe is the best way to lower crime?

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Restitution is the newest goal of sentencing, which takes into account the effect the crime had on the victim. This goal allows for the criminal not only to see the errors of his way, but to right the wrongs he has committed. The criminal restores the damages he made (Seiter 2011 p. 33-34). Restitution is great because it links the criminal back to his crime allowing him to see how his actions have caused pain to others. But as in the same regards as rehabilitation, not all people are willing to admit wrongs and seek to change. Some people have been stripped of emotion and are apathetic to how they cause pain to others.


Seiter, R. (2011). Corrections: An introduction (3rd ed.). Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Worrall, J. (2008). Crime control in America: What works? (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

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