What is deterrent or preventive theory of punishment?

The Deterrent theory of punishment is utilitarian in nature, for it believes that man is punished, not because he has done a wrong act or committed a crime but in order that crime may not be committed. It is best expressed in the word of a judge, who famously said, “You are punished not for stealing sheep, but in order that sheep may not be stolen”. By making the potential criminals realize that it does not pay to commit a crime, the Deterrent theory, hopes to control the crime rate in the society, so that people may have a feeling of security. The first order principle is maximum happiness of the maximum number of people in the society. Jeremy Bentham is the promoter of this theory.

This theory will be effective if the central conditions are fulfilled:

  1. Every crime must be followed by a punishment, i.e. no criminal should escape punishment, only than the potential criminal will think twice before committing a crime.
  2. Though the punishment should be in proportion to the crime, but sometimes a slightly severe punishment be given to serve as deterrent.
  3. There must be a minimum of the time gap between the crime committed and punishment followed. This is the only way to ensure that the impact of punishment is felt by members of the society, for justice delayed is justice denied.
  4. Wide publicity should be given to punishment that follows the crime. This can be done through various mass media, such as talk shows, newspapers, films, TV, etc. It is only then that the prospective criminals will realize that it does not pay to commit a crime.

This theory also recognizes capital punishment or hanging one to death. This theory has certain defects:

  1. This theory is not tenable, because a criminal is punished so
    that others do not repeat the act. Here instead of reminding the majesty and supremacy to criminals, we punish him for the future good of society. Our aim of punishment should be to educate and at the same time to make him once again aware of moral laws and its supremacy.
  2. This theory treats human being as a means. For punishing a person, we treat him as a means or a thing or an instrument to prevent other from doing similar crimes so the aim of punishment is not purely ethical. From the ethical point of view we should treat every human being as an end in himself but never as a means.
  3. In this theory all individuals are punished to set example to other potential criminals. That means if at all, they desist from committing crimes it is because they are afraid of being punished. But fear of punishment is a non moral motive. It means when there is no punishment there is every possibility that an individual may commit crime.
  4. The purpose of the theory is to deter potential criminals. It is quite possible that in trying to achieve this aim, it may make the punishment severe, acting on the assumption that the more severe the punishment, greater is the deterrent effect. Thus the theory tends to be a cruel theory, for the punishment may not be in proportion to the crime. The deterrent theory also is not a very satisfactory theory of punishment.

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