The Principle of Retributivism in Sentencing


Retribution is a justifiable punishment for a wrong committed against others. One of its core principles is that it is suitable for the legal authorities to provide appropriate suffering for the people who commit crimes. In addition, the other stance is that it is intrinsically morally well for a legitimate punisher to be accorded the role of sentencing. In other words, since a wrong act cannot simply be undone, it requires an extra response for justice to be upheld as the offenders get what they deserve. The attitude and the motive of the person at the time of committing a crime is also significant consideration for retribution. Moreover, the monopoly of retribution is left to the state to avoid reducing justice to revenge. Although the person whose rights were infringed may not get back what was taken away from them, retributive justice helps in compensating the victims.

The argument for majority support

Firstly, retributive justice satisfies human intuition, which is reliable. Particularly, people tend to believe that it is significant to punish offenders even if there is nothing good that will come out of the harsh treatment. Society is founded on contract rules which offenders violate. Through punishment, the goods or advantages that a person got against the rules are taken away because they have incurred a debt to the community. Therefore, establishing retribution in a country is an act of democracy.

A possible rebuttal is that retribution does not benefit society because nobody gains when pain is inflicted on the offender. To refute the argument, it is necessary to imagine the feelings that people often have when a criminal is left to go free. Most people will feel a sense of betrayal by the justice system if people go against the set norms and are left free. Some people may even decide to take justice into their hands because the state has failed. Thus, people may not directly benefit from the punishment of the offender, but it helps them have faith in the criminal justice system.

Fairness to the victim

Secondly, retributive sentencing ensures that the victim gains a sense of fairness. The main focus of retribution is ensuring that the punishment that has been given is proportional to the offense. For example, if a person rapes their victim, then sentencing them to many years in prison makes the victim reestablish faith in the constitution. Noteworthy, the bill of rights is meant to ensure that all people are accorded the fundamental freedom to live harmoniously with others in society. Therefore, when these rights are infringed, it is possible for the person to lose faith in the constitution. The only way to restore hope is by showing them that the perpetrator has been given a worthwhile punishment. Thus, the person who has been offended may feel better when they know that their rights are protected and defended by the law when the offender receives an equitable punishment.

The naysayers are reluctant to appreciate fairness in retribution because they argue that there is no possible way of achieving proportionality. The severity of punishment depends on the level of seriousness with which a crime is gauged. Yet, there is no way of measuring an offense before deciding the sentence with the same implication. For example, different countries have different time sentencing and bonds for criminals. Moreover, even when two people commit the same kind of offense, the seriousness may be different based on the motive and even culture. For example, if a person comes from a culture where people are allowed to get in a garden and eat food when they are angry, the seriousness of them breaking into a hotel and eating is not the same as that of a second individual who was just defying the rules. Thus, it is impossible to determine which of the nations has the most proportionate response to the wrong.

The problem with such reasoning is that it assumes that for a punishment to be proportionate, it has to be the same. However, proportionality is a qualitative measure that is usually flexible. For instance, to find out the proportionate response for stealing, the relevant authorities can do large correctional research in which all the law-abiding citizens are asked to state the number of years that a thief should be imprisoned. Research is one of the best ways of upholding the principle of proportionality. Hence, when the consequences given for committing a specific crime are justifiable in the eyes of many, then proportionality has been achieved.

Legality and standardization

Thirdly, retributivism is one of the best sources for justifying the punishment that the judiciary documents for different kinds of offenders. For example, when a defendant is arraigned in court, the judges use the constitution and history of related cases to pronounce a sentence. The entire records on sentencing are only justifiable in light of retributivism. Moreover, in all countries, the victim is expected to report the offense and leave the police and lawyers, who then o follow-ups to ensure that justice is served. The rationale for not allowing the victim to take justice into their own hands is that emotions can cloud their vision.

A contrary argument is that punishment does not restore a criminal because when pain is inflicted on a person, they do not feel love. An appropriate justice system should be restorative and rehabilitative to ensure that the offenders are integrated into society after regretting their actions. Moreover, there are chances that people entrusted with administering justice are biased and corrupt. In such cases, retributivism may not work, and justice will be denied for the victim without any transformation of the perpetrator.

However, it is worth noting that punishment makes a person conscious of the law. For example, when a person is jailed for a crime, they will have an adverse effect which makes them not want to subject their body to harsh treatment. As a result, they will try not to repeat the same offense. Regarding the corruption b the police and other officers, the individual actions of a few should not be generalized to the entire criminal and justice system. Many people uphold integrity and work hard to ensure that justice is served. Those who fail are also criminals and subject to punishment if their actions are exposed. Therefore, retributivism is standard and offers the best response to ensuring justice and deterring recidivism.


In conclusion, retributivism advocates inflicting some harsh treatment on offenders. The punishment that the person receives should be proportionate to the seriousness of the crime. Moreover, considerations should be made of the attitude and motive of the person at the time of the offense. The model is thought appropriate by most people who believe that punishment is a necessary end for criminals. Moreover, it is fair to the victim to give them confidence in the constitution. Last but not least, it forms the basis for the standardization and legalization of criminal matters. The few arguments against retributivism are unfounded and can easily be refuted with facts. Without retributivism, there is no foundation for the protection of the constitution and upholding justice.

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"The Principle of Retributivism in Sentencing." LawBirdie, 14 Apr. 2023,


LawBirdie. (2023) 'The Principle of Retributivism in Sentencing'. 14 April.


LawBirdie. 2023. "The Principle of Retributivism in Sentencing." April 14, 2023.

1. LawBirdie. "The Principle of Retributivism in Sentencing." April 14, 2023.


LawBirdie. "The Principle of Retributivism in Sentencing." April 14, 2023.