retribution | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Corrrections

Retribution, in the criminal justice context, refers to the idea that punishment is morally justified as a response to a criminal act.

In the criminal justice system, retribution is one of the main philosophies behind punishment. It is based on the idea that offenders should be punished because they have committed a crime and have done something wrong. Retribution is often referred to as the “eye for an eye” principle, where the punishment is proportional to the harm caused by the crime.

Retribution is often seen as a way of restoring balance and justice to society. It is believed that by punishing an offender, society is able to reassert its authority and demonstrate that criminal behavior will not be tolerated. This is seen as a necessary deterrent to future criminal activity.

Retribution is also seen as a way of holding offenders accountable for their actions. The punishment is seen as a way of making the offender pay for the harm they have caused and making them take responsibility for their actions. This is often seen as an important aspect of the rehabilitation process, as it is believed that offenders must accept responsibility for their actions before they can be successfully rehabilitated.

Critics of retribution argue that it is often used as a way of satisfying the desire for revenge rather than serving the needs of justice. They argue that retribution often results in excessively harsh punishment, which can be seen as a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

Others argue that retribution is too focused on punishment and does not do enough to address the underlying causes of criminal behavior. They argue that a more effective approach to reducing crime would be to focus on prevention, such as through education and social programs.

Despite these criticisms, retribution remains a popular philosophy behind punishment in the criminal justice system. It is seen as an important way of maintaining order and restoring balance in society. However, it is important that the use of retribution is balanced with other approaches, such as rehabilitation and prevention, in order to ensure that the criminal justice system is effective and just.

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Last Modified: 04/08/2023


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