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Theories of Criminal Justice

Numerous theories of criminal justice have emerged in recent decade, seeking answers to important questions regarding punishment of offenders. What, in fact, is criminal justice? Should we punish? Why? How? And How much? Legal theorists wrestle with such questions, combining ethics with the practice of criminal justice.

Theories of Criminal Justice

Legal theorists generally define four different types of justice: corrective justice, distributive justice, procedural justice, and retributive justice. Criminal law is a part of retributive justice, often based on the biblical phrase “an eye for an eye,” but modern theories of criminal justice have a tendency to include aspects of deterrence as opposed to strict punishment.

Most theories of criminal justice believe that there should be some sort of punishment for criminals. Some criminals deserve punishment for their criminal actions. However, deeper questions then arise: should only lawbreakers be punished? If the reason for punishment is rehabilitation, should those who demonstrate genuine remorse still be punished?

If it is agreed that some acts and people deserve punishment, what should be the nature of that punishment? The Bill of Rights, for example, forbids cruel and unusual punishment. Deterrence theory maintains that the amount of punishment should be the minimum required to deter future crime, and that it should be proportional to the amount of harm caused by the offender.

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