The Four Major Types of Criminal Punishments

The Four Major Types of Criminal Punishments

You probably know the phrase, “The punishment fits the crime.” In the criminal justice system, there are several forms of punishment that the law may consider — and the four most common types are incarceration, rehabilitation, diversion, and retribution. Let’s break down the differences. 

#1: Incarceration

Incarceration — also known as incapacitation or imprisonment — is when you’re sentenced to prison for a specified amount of time. This may range from a few weeks to life in prison, but ultimately, the sentencing length depends on the judge or jury’s decision. 

Incarceration sentences are usually accompanied by minimum, maximum, presumptive, or indeterminate sentences:

  • Minimum sentencing: The minimum amount of time an offender must serve
  • Maximum sentencing: The maximum amount of time an offender can serve
  • Presumptive sentencing: Most states have presumptive guidelines that an offender may serve based on the type of crime they committed
  • Indeterminate sentencing: The offender shall not serve less than or more than a specific amount of time 

However, the United States prisons are severely overpopulated, which is why incarceration is usually a last resort if other methods are unsuitable. Another argument against defaulting to incarceration is that most prisoners do not reform and instead return to a life of crime after they are released. 

#2: Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation is a growingly popular method of criminal punishment because it aims to help offending individuals change their behaviors by removing them from the environment that might have led them to commit the crime in the first place. 

Statistics show that rehabilitation does seem to decrease recidivism. For example, if a person is arrested for selling drugs because they associate with drug dealers, a form of rehabilitation may remove them from that setting so that they could take time to move away from that way of life. Then, hopefully, once they go back into society, they won’t re-offend. 

#3: Diversion

Diversion is a unique “punishment” in which a judge may sentence an offender to a deferred sentencing program or dismiss the charges to avoid a criminal record or conviction. 

If a teenager steals jewelry from a department store, and it’s their first offense, the officer may release them (if the store manager decides not to press charges). 

Diversion is most common for first-time, low-level offenders who don’t have records or may experience negative effects from formal sentencing. Judges may offer diversion because they believe this was a one-time mistake and that this crime shouldn’t tarnish their permanent records. 

#4: Retribution

Have you ever heard of “an eye for an eye”? If so, that’s retribution. If an offender steals money from someone, they must pay it back. If an offender murders somebody, they go to prison (and may face death row). 

Retribution is a hot topic in criminal justice since many believe it’s fair — while others do not. Many may argue that retribution is often unjust because several factors come into play when deciding an offender’s sentencing. 

For example, individuals part of the community who sit on the jury may have wildly different opinions than those who aren’t local and are unfamiliar with the community. 

We Can Help You — No Matter What Punishment You’re Facing

If you’ve been charged with a crime and are facing punishment, don’t wait any longer: Call Hickey & Hull Law Partners today. Our River Valley office number is 479.434.2414, and our Northwest Arkansas number is 479.802.6560. Contact us or fill out our form and we’ll give you a free case consultation because our number one goal is to ensure that you’re treated justly.