Theories of Punishment in Indian Penal Code,1860


Punishment is the sanction imposed on an accused for the infringement of the established rules and norms of the society.


The object of punishment is to protect society from mischievous and undesirable elements by deterring potential offenders, by preventing the actual offenders from committing further offences and by reforming and turning them into law abiding citizens.

Types of Theories

  1. Deterrent Theory
  2. Preventive Theory
  3. Retributive Theory
  4. Reformative Theory
  5. Multi Approach Theory

a) Deterrent Theory: According to this theory, the object of punishment is not only to prevent the wrong-doer from doing a wrong second time, but also to make him an example to others who have criminal tendencies. Salmond considers deterrent aspects of criminal justice to be most important for control of crime. Deterrent punishment is likely to harden the criminal instead of creating in his mind a fear of law. Hardened criminals are not afraid of imprisonment.

b) Preventive Theory: According to Paton:’The theory concentrates on the prisoner and seeks to prevent him from offending again in the future. The death penalty and exile serve the same purpose of disabling the offender’. Critics point out that preventive punishment has the undesirable effect of hardening first offenders, or juvenile offenders, when imprisonment is the punishment, by putting them in association of hardened criminals.

c) Retributive Theory: In primitive society punishment was mainly retributive. The person wronged was allowed to have revenge against the wrong-doer. The principle of ‘an eye for an eye’, ‘a tooth for tooth’, was the basis of criminal administration. According to Justice Holmes: ‘It is commonly known that the early forms of legal procedure were grounded in vengeance’. The advocates of this theory plead that the criminal deserves to suffer.

d) Reformative Theory: According to this theory, the object of punishment is reformation of criminals. The object of the punishment should be to reform the offender. The criminal must be educated and taught some art and craft or industry during his term of imprisonment, so that he may be able to lead a good life and become a responsible and respectable citizen after release from jail.

e) Multi Approach Theory: In fact, a perfect system of criminal justice could never be based on any single theory of justice. Every theory has its own merits and every effort should be made to extract the good points of each and integrate it so that best of all could be achieved. Punishment should be proportionate to the nature and gravity of the crime. The object of any concession given to an offender should be to convince him that normal and free life is better than life in jail.