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Christian Attitudes Towards the Aims of Punishment

The four key aims of punishment are:

  • Protection: To ensure people in society are kept safe.
  • Retribution: To punish the criminal, make them pay for their crimes.
  • Deterrence: To put people off breaking the law.
  • Reformation: To educate the criminal, giving them an opportunity to change their ways.

All Christians believe that punishment is acceptable if a crime has been committed, providing the law is followed and justice is achieved. However, they have different views on the aims of punishment.

  • Protection: All Christians believe that protection of society from dangerous criminals is essential. As all life is sacred, they feel that all measures should be taken to protect it, including locking criminals up in prison.
  • Retribution: There is teaching in the Bible about justice and retribution. Therefore, many Christians would accept that punishment should aim to seek retribution, to many criminals pay for what they have done. God is seen as a God of justice, and so it might be seen as only fair and just to punish a criminal. The Bible suggests that retribution is important: 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' Exodus 21:24. However, whilst retribution is seen as an important aim of punishment, it is also important to follow the correct legal procedures.
  • Deterrence: Christians feel that deterrence is an excellent thing if it stops people from committing crimes for fear of being punished.
  • Reformation: Central to Christianity is the idea of forgiving people and giving them second chances. Therefore, many Christians support this aim of punishment. They believe that showing criminals the error of their ways, educating them and offering them the chance to develop new skills so that they don't need to return to crime, is a good thing. This is because Jesus taught and demonstrated agape love. Jesus also taught about the importance of forgiveness in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant and in his actions on the cross, when he forgave the people who crucified him and the criminals who were crucified with him.