General purposes of criminal sanctions

When sentencing an offender, the judge must keep the five principal aims of sentencing in mind. These are:

Retribution (punishment)

Criminal sanctions may punish the defendant in a way that is just. The sentence given must be fair and reasonable based on the evidence presented, but the judge must also ensure that the individual’s actions are punished.


Another purpose is to deter (discourage, or prevent) from offending. Deterrence may be general, in which case the sanction discourages the wider community from committing a particular crime. The sentence may also specifically deter the defendant from re-offending.


Criminal sanctions may aim to rehabilitate the offender. This means that it would alter the offender’s mindset so that he or she genuinely does not want to re-offend. A sanction with the aim of rehabilitation would give the opportunity to the offender to change his or her behaviour, and subsequently become a valuable, contributing member to society. Education programs in prison, as well as drug and alcohol counselling, are parts of criminal sanctions which have the aim of rehabilitation in mind.


A criminal sanction may protect the community from the offender. For instance, imprisonment physically prevents an offender from committing crimes in public.


Denunciation is when the court uses a sanction to outline its disapproval of an offender’s actions. The sanction shows that the offender’s actions were inappropriate and deserved punishment.

See also:

Criminal sanctions

Specific purposes of criminal sanctions