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Difference Between Deterrence and Retribution

Deterrence Vs Retribution

Deterrence and Retribution are two highly debated concepts in the study of law. Specifically in the subject of punishment, these concepts are just two of the five grounds for one to be punished. In itself, both deterrence and retribution have become individual theories whose thoughts are constantly being discussed of either being good or bad. For example, in capital punishment or the regulation of death penalty, two of the most common questions are ‘Does the punishment of death deter crime?’ or ‘Should capital punishment be upheld for retribution?’

By definition, a deterrent is something that stops something or somebody from doing an act (usually a bad act). Retribution, on the other hand, is deliberately inducing pain, unhappiness, or discomfort to the perpetrator to satisfy your sadistic nature (to make you feel good). This should not be misinterpreted as the punishment per se.

By imposing a method or means of deterrence, the offender will be cautioned not to do another offence of similar or related nature (again) or else he or she will have to experience the same punishment given to him or her before. Also, deterrence can also be used as a means to set an example to others who are would-be or soon-to-be offenders so that they will be deterred from committing a similar offense. At a glance, deterrence (as a reason for punishment) seems to be a very harsh principle.

Retribution, also known as retributive justice, is simply ‘getting even’ with the offender. Just seeing or knowing that the offender is suffering will be considered good. Although this has been practiced in many countries around the world for many centuries already, several experts (especially the utilitarians who believe that all means of punishment is evil) doubt its real benefit. They say that retribution is just transferring the responsibility of carrying out the act of getting even (revenge) from the victim to the state.

Nevertheless, other people believe that the thought of punishment should focus on the one being given the retribution, which is the dead victim (in case of murder) and not the family members of the victim. Retribution is just like saying the famous quote ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!’ The felon committed suffering to the society hence he or she must receive suffering from the society.

All in all, retribution is getting even with the felon while deterrence is doing something to the felon so as to deter him and other would-be felons from doing the same wrong doing.


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