Throughout history, society has developed different ways to simultaneously punish criminal offenders while also ensuring the safety of the public. Those who study types of crimes and their punishments learn that five major types of criminal punishment have emerged: incapacitation, deterrence, retribution, rehabilitation and restoration.  

Students in an online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice learn these types of criminal punishment as part of a curriculum that prepares them for success working in the criminal justice field.   

The Types of Criminal Punishment  

The types of punishment listed by the University of Oxford handbook include the first four of the following. The idea of restorative justice is newer. Today’s experts in criminology see it as a valid criminal punishment option. Those who judge the types of crimes and their punishments typically use one of the following approaches to guide them. 


This is one of the first forms of punishmentessentially the idea of “an eye for an eye.Those who favor retribution believe it gives the victims of crime, or society as a whole, a sense of satisfaction knowing a criminal received the appropriate level of punishment for the crime committed. Lawmakers face the task of determining these appropriate levels of punishment, which can range from speeding ticket fine amounts to mandatory sentences for certain crimes. 


Deterrence aims to prevent future crime and can focus on specific and general deterrence. Specific deterrence deals with making an individual less likely to commit a future crime because of fear of getting a similar or worse punishment. General deterrence refers to the impact on members of the public who become less likely to commit a crime after learning of the punishment another person experienced. 


Rehabilitation seeks to prevent future crime by altering a criminal’s behavior. This typically includes offering a host of programs while in prison, including educational and vocational programs, treatment center placement, and mental health counseling. This approach also typically gives judges the flexibility to mix in rehabilitation programs as part of a criminal’s sentencing. The goal is to lower the rate of recidivism, or people committing another crime after getting released from prison. 


This is another ancient approach that remains popular. Incapacitation simply means removing a person from society. This includes incarceration in prison, house arrest and, in its more dire form, execution. Many feel the flaw in this approach is that it doesn’t address rehabilitation or recidivism, the latter of which tends to remain high in societies that practice incapacitation. 


This new approach to criminal justice calls for the offender to make direct amends to the victim of their crime, as well as the community where the crime occurred. Judges use this approach mostly with juvenile offenders. In this approach, the criminal and the victim meet so that the offender can hear what the victim says about their experience with the crime committed. The offender then strives to make amends and seek forgiveness. 

These theories are intricately involved in studies on the types of crimes and their punishments. Society developed each of them with the idea of ensuring appropriate punishment for criminals and safety for society.