Punishment Law and Legal Definition

Punishment is the infliction of some kind of pain or loss upon a person for a misdeed. In criminal law, punishment is allowed due to the wrongful intent involved in the crime. A punishment such as incarceration seeks to give any victim involved retribution against the offender, deter the criminal from future criminal acts, and hopefully rehabilitate the offender. This is distinguished from civil law, which seeks to compensate the injured party rather than punish the wrongdoer.

Justifications for punishment typically take five forms: (1) retributive; (2) deterrence; (3) preventive; (4) rehabilitative; and (5) restitutionary. There are limitations on the punishment that may be imposed. The U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment states: ‘Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.’ A number of state constitutions also contain the same, or similar, provisions.

cruel and unusual punishment definition
Punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. Cruel and unusual punishment includes torture, deliberately degrading punishment, or punishment that is too severe for the crime committed. This concept helps guarantee due process even to convicted criminals. Many people have argued that capital punishment should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

The average length of time served by federal inmates more than doubled from 1988 to 2012, rising from 17.9 to 37.5 months.1 Across all six major categories of federal crime—violent, property, drug, public order, weapon, and immigration offenses—imprisonment periods increased significantly. For drug offenders, who make up roughly half of the federal prison population, time served leapt from less than two years to nearly five.

Mandatory minimum sentencing laws, the elimination of parole, and other policy choices helped drive this growth, which cost taxpayers an estimated $2.7 billion in 2012 alone.Despite these expenditures, research shows that longer prison terms have had little or no effect as a crime prevention strategy—a finding supported by data showing that policymakers have safely reduced sentences for thousands of federal offenders in recent years.4

Who determines the sentence? Judges? Legislators? Jury?

Concurrent versus consecutive sentences

Should we punish an eye for an eye?

How do you have equitable punishment when the convicted individual has varying degrees of means at their disposal to mitigate the punishment. Bond, commissary, etc.?

Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to 60 years. He is eligible for parole after 30 years being convicted of 45 of 48 counts against him

Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for a massive $36B ponzi scheme. Only repaying $2.6B to customers

Jared Fogle was sentenced to 15 years in prison, plus $175,000 in fines, forfeit $225,000 in assets in addition to $1.4M in restitution.


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