Deterrence Theory as a Theory of Punishment

Deterrence Theory as a Theory of Punishment

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Introduction –

History is a witness to the fact that when the crime rate proliferates in society punishments are introduced to curb them. It has been clearly evident that punishments have always been instrumental to stop the crime rate and restore public order. Punishment can be defined as the hardships imposed on an individual in response to such wrong committed or misconduct. There are various kinds of punishment imposed on an individual but there are majorly four theories of punishment. These theories of punishment are reformative theory, preventive theory, retributive theory and deterrence theory.

Reformative Theory –

The reformative theory of punishment is basically a rehabilitation of the offender through the punishment imposed over him. The essence of this punishment is the belief that no one is a born offender and these offenders of law are humans too. Under this reformative theory, these offenders are educated and trained to become good humans who abide by the laws of the state. It is one of the most successful and widely accepted theories of punishment.

Preventive Theory –

The preventive theory of punishment is used in cases of heinous crimes. This theory is basically used to stop the crime from happening rather than avenging it. Under this theory, the offender is kept aloof from the society. Punishments such as death penalty, life imprisonment etc is awarded to the offenders. This is done so that they no longer remain a threat to the life of people around them. This theory of punishment has been widely criticized and is inhumane in nature.

Retributive Theory –

The retributive theory of punishment is based on avenging the crime that offender has committed. It is based on the old philosophy of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Retribution literally means to return the given. This theory was propounded to make the offender feel the same pain he inflicted while committing offence. This theory does not do for the social order or transformation of the offender. This has been criticized by the intelligentsia.

Deterrent theory –

“The end of punishment, therefore, is no other than to prevent the criminal from doing further injury to society, and to prevent others from committing the like offence.”

It is known to all that fear of punishment reduces the chances of committing the offence. Deterrent theory aims to inflict punishment on the offender in order to stop the crime. An Italian philosopher, Ceasare Beccaria, wrote that laws are made for the existence of a peaceful society free from threats and crime. According to him punishments is an instrument that prevents others from committing the same offence and the punishment should be proportionate to the crime committed.

Under the theory, since criminal acts are the result of a rational, conscious decision, preventing crimes involves finding the balance between increasing the cost of crime and creating an expensive police state that eliminates personal freedom . The Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham is credited with articulating the three elements that must be present if deterrence is to work . Following are the three elements that need to be present:

• Celerity refers to the speed of a repercussion. This is to say that the effectiveness of a punishment is directly impacted by the time taken to award it after the crime is committed. If the punishment is immediately awarded then it is comparatively more beneficial.

• Certainty refers to the probability of being caught. The likelihood of being caught influence the fear that its punishment will instill.

• Severity refers to the scale of punishment awarded for a particular crime. If a punishment is not as tough as the benefit of doing the crime than people are more likely to commit it.

The main idea behind this theory is fear. By punishing an individual, examples would be set that if someone repeats the crime then he would be treated in the same way. This would prevent the possibility of further commission of the crime.

In the case of Phul Singh v. State of Haryana, the offender raped a 24 year old girl in daylight. The Session court awarded him a punishment for the period of 4 years rigorous imprisonment but the Supreme Court reduced it to two years of rigorous imprisonment. This decision was taken to maintain the productivity of the punishment.
The deterrence theory is further classified into two categories that is general and specific deterrence. General deterrence refers to general public who have not yet till now committed any offence. Capital and corporal punishment are example of general deterrence as they set example for others and instill fear among the masses whereas Specific deterrence is for the offenders. It prevents the offenders from committing sins further.

This blog is written by Jaya Singh, Amity University.

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