Religion, Crime and Punishment – AIMS OF PUNISHMENT

The Aims of Punishment


There are six aims of punishment. When talking about the aims of punishment what we mean is what the criminal justice system hopes to achieve by punishing criminals.

  1. Deterrence – To put people off committing a crime in the future. A long prison sentence or large fine and driving ban for example should act to deter criminals from breaking the law.
  2. Retribution – This means to take revenge on the offender. Retribution could take the form of a long prison sentence, which reflects the nature of the crime, or in some countries corporal punishment such as whipping may be used. The principle behind retribution is that the punishment should fit the crime.
  3. Reformation – This means to encourage a criminal to change for the better eg prisons support inmates to gain qualifications or complete job training, which should hopefully give them a chance to stay away from a life of crime.
  4. Protection – The public must be protected from dangerous criminals. Prison is one way of taking dangerous criminals off the streets.
  5. Vindication – People must see justice being served so they can have faith in the criminal justice system
  6. Reparation – To give something back to society and repair the damage that has been done eg a person guilty of graffiti might be asked to clean it up or perhaps put their artistic talents to good use such as decorating a community centre.


Religious Views on the Aims of Punishment


Exam Tip – For the purpose of the exam you need to be able to write in detail about three of the six aims above. And religious views on them. These are Deterrence, Retribution and Reformation.



This aim of punishment is very important within both Christianity and Islam. Both Muslims and Christians would argue that if this aim worked there would be no crime.

In many Islamic countries there are very harsh punishments for criminals in the hope that they will put people off committing a crime. In countries such as Saudi Arabia people follow Shari’ah Law. Examples include the amputation of a hand for frequent thefts or lashes for being found with alcohol. The death penalty may also be given for committing adultery or murder.

In contrast, Christianity would say that whilst punishment needs to be given, for the most part they would say these punishments should not be excessively harsh. For example, most Christians are against the death penalty as it goes against the commandment “Thou shall not kill”.



Religions have a similar view on this to deterrence. In both Christianity and Islam there is the notion that the punishment should fit the crime. From an Islamic perspective this would confirm why in many countries the death penalty is given for murder. The only appropriate punishment for taking a life can be death, “Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law” (Qur’an)


Christians and Muslims may use the teaching “Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” Whilst some Christians would use this quote to support the death penalty, most would say that this quote would suggest that punishment should be given but to take life means the justice system becomes just as bad as the murderer. For a Christian, revenge is not a good enough reason to punish a criminal, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult”(1Peter 3:9)



 Both Christianity and Islam would agree with this aim of punishment though in slightly different ways. Within Islam, it is felt that the harsh punishments given for crimes under Shari’ah Law such as the amputation of a limb will help reform the individual because they see what they have done wrong. Reform is also central in terms of an individual’s relationship with Allah. A number of Muslims support programmes in prisons to help criminals change for the better through eg education. Muslim criminals can also pay compensation to families of victims of crimes such as murder. Allah looks this upon this favourably at final judgment.


For Christians, reform is very important as this aim of punishment fits with the Christian concept of forgiveness. Most Christians would say that all criminals should be given the chance to change for the better. The Lord’s Prayer tells Christians to “Forgive those who trespass against us”. Elizabeth Fry was a 19th Century Quaker Christian who worked hard to change conditions in prisons eg give prisoners access to education. Her work was recognised by her being featured on the five pound note.


Exam Tip – Make sure you know the definitions of the six aims of punishment. Look at the two exam questions below. Do you know how to answer them? If not, please ask you teacher in class or via e mail:

  • Explain TWO religious beliefs about reformation. (5)
  • ‘Reform is the most important aim of punishment’ (12)

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