Purposes and Effectiveness of Criminal Sentencing

The primary justification for sentencing is the punishment to the offender. An offender is sentenced after pleading guilty to the offense, or after the summary hearing in a local court has found him or her guilty of committing the offence as per charged, or after a judge alone or trial by jury in the supreme court or even the District Court.

Sentencing takes place on a separate day after the trial or summary hearing in most cases. The process of sentence hearing is conducted before the judge or the magistrate, these are the judicial officers. The defense is given an opportunity to present his or her evidence and arguments on the nature of the sentence. The information on the applicable law and the relevant sentencing are provided by the prosecution in assistance capacity. The prosecution can challenge the evidence presented by the offended at the sentence hearing. The defense may also present evidence describing the offender’s character usually in a form of statements from relatives, close friends, employer or other persons associated directly with the offender.

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In most cases, the evidence is called by both the offender and the offended sides. Both oral and written arguments are made by the defense and the prosecution. Witnesses are also called for close examination. Documents like psychiatric reports, crime scene photos, or recorded media are submitted by the prosecutor as evidences as exhibits in support of the sentence to the crimes. Once the offender has been found guilty of the charges presented against him after the judicial officer takes into account all factors relevant to the charge, the offender is sentenced.

Several factors determine the nature of the sentence. These factors include both aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors include; the nature of the crime, the offenders criminal history, the harm, loss or damage caused by the offender to the offended and whether the offender was on probation or on bail. Mitigating factors include; whether the offender was under duress or provoked by the offended, whether the crime was a planned criminal activity, the likelihood of reoffend, the plea of guilty by the offender and the degree of pretrial disclosure by the defense.

Purposes of sentencing

The effectiveness of a sentence depends on the purpose of the sentence and how it is implemented. I sense a great deal adds value to the effectiveness of the sentence and helps attain the purpose of the sentence. Different states, countries and regions provide different reasons in their laws on the purpose of the sentence to the offender, who is proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The most common purposes of sentences include protecting the community from the offender, through incapacitation.

The sentence is also aimed at ensuring an adequate punishment for the offence or retribution. Sentencing also discourages hence preventing or deterring the offender and other persons from committing similar and other offences. It is also aimed at promoting the offenders rehabilitation.

Another important purpose of the sentence is to make the offender responsible or accountable for his or her actions. Sentencing is also meant for condemning that is to denounce the conduct of the offender and most importantly to recognize the harm of the crime committed to the victim and as well as the community. According to the New South Wales, the law provides the most important purpose of sentencing is to protect the community from crimes and the criminals. Generally, the major purposes of crime sentences are deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation and retribution.

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Deterrence means discouraging the criminal from reoffending or repeating the crime. This is one of the most important reasons for the use of imprisonment as a method of correction. It is aimed to deter or discourage the offenders from committing the crime in the future also referred to as general deterrence. Individual deterrence makes it less likely for those who serve prison sentence to commit the same or other crimes after they are released from the prison.


Retribution is the society’s punishment for anti-societal acts referred to as the crime. It is a justification for punishment that argues whether the offender should be punished or not. This is for the sake of instrumental ends and also for the fact that a criminal action deserves a punishment proportionate to the committed crime. According to most psychologists, punishment is defined as the process of presenting a consequence, derived from an observed behavior in most cases undesired by the society. This helps in reducing the frequency or intensity of the behavior reoccurrence .

Retribution theory of punishment states that punishment is a justified way of reducing crime, by the moral requirement that the guilty convert from criminal acts. This theory maintains that the punishment should be proportionate to the nature and magnitude of the offense. The theory further holds that punishments should not be levied in order to attain a law abiding behavior by the offender and other members of the society.


This is a justification of punishment which is associated with positivists approach to the criminology. Offenders are taken to be sick, the state, therefore, uses prisons and other means to attempt to cure them and reintroduce them back into the society as cured patients, ready to relate well to the society. In rehabilitation theories, the offenders are assumed to be not permanent criminals and that they can restored to useful members of the society. This means that the offenders can be restored to a life in which they can be useful and contribute to themselves and to the society. The major goal of rehabilitation is to reduce and prevent habitual offending, this is also known as recidivism. Rehabilitation seeks education or therapy to be administered to the offender in order to convert the offender to a normal state of mind. This is also aimed at converting the offender’s attitude to a helpful member of the society rather being harmful.

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Punishments based on this notion are aimed at reforming and rehabilitating the offender, to be able to reintegrate into the society much easier. This involves community service, guidance and counseling, education, religious instruction, probation orders, job training, drug treatment, after care aimed towards the offender and other skills that are offered in prison system. These activities help the offender to acquire skills and refocus on beneficial means of relating with other members of the society making it easier for them to integrate back into the society


Incapacitation refers to keeping the offender out of the society for a period of time depending on the crime committed capital crime offender are sometimes separated completely from the society through life imprisonment. This is mainly aimed at reducing crimes by restricting the offender’s mostly by locking them in and therefore denying them opportunities to commit further crime.

This method of punishment comes with its challenges like the cost involved. Fact is that this method is very expensive. Incapacitation involves big costs in building and operating prisons to a standard capable of holding offenders while serving their sentences. The other challenge is overcrowded prisons in cases of many offenders than the prisons can hold.


Criminal offenses are a main challenge in the social wellbeing of any population. Coming up with effective sentencing goes a long way in ensuring that crime offenders are given an appropriate sentence and that the harm caused by the crime is well recognized, to both the offended and the society as a whole. Most important, the sentences should be aimed at correcting and empowering the offenders so as to make them important and productive members of the society. I sense a great deal adds value to the effectiveness of the sentence and helps attain the purpose of the sentence

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