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Punishment is society's solution to the injuries it suffers through crime. Fines, incarceration and, in some cases, certain acts of restitution are the most common forms of punishment meted out to criminal offenders by society through the criminal law system in this country. This is in contrast to tort and civil law, in which compensation for damages is paid out by one individual or organization to another.

Tremendous energies are poured into the legislative and judicial offices of this country to determine what punishment is appropriate for which crime. The criminal law strives ceaselessly for a balance between too much and too little: punishing citizens too harshly for their actions can cause more harm too society than the offense being punished, while being too lenient with punishment weakens the criminal law's effectiveness and can erode its very purpose. Criminal law and procedure seek what is neither excessive nor insufficient, but in fact the just and equal punishment for the crime.

Punishment is perhaps the most characteristic feature of the criminal law. So, an understanding of the purposes of punishment, and what society hopes to achieve by punishing is necessary for those seeking to understand the criminal law. Criminology traditionally identifies four purposes of punishment. These are,

to restrain and remove from society;

to inflict retribution for the damage done to society;

to rehabilitate criminal offenders; and,

to deter the individual and others in general from further crime.

We will discuss these and other concepts in following articles.

As for classifications of punishment, there are either corporeal or non-corporeal. Corporeal punishments are any that are inflicted on the body, such as incarceration, whipping, forced labor or death. Non-corporeal punishments take the form of fines, suspension or deprivation of office of civil rights (e.g., the right to vote), forfeitures and so on.

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Punishment - Criminal Law Basics