In penology, retribution is a justice theory that considers a proportionate punishment a moral response to crime. Retribution focuses on the satisfaction and psychological benefits that exacting punishments can bestow on the victim of the crime, the close associates of the victim, and society as a whole.
The philosophical approach that supports Retribution can be understood as “letting the punishment fit the crime.” In ancient times, retribution was the guiding principle of legal systems, such as the Code of Hammurabi. However, it is difficult to determine whether or not the punishment is an appropriate response to the crime. Part of the difficulty lies in determining how harsh or severe a punishment should be in order to considered a proper example of retribution.
Although it is generally agreed that a convict in a case of murder should be punished more harshly than a convict in a shoplifting case, the difficulty lies in determining when the level of retribution is appropriate. A criminal justice system based on retribution does not require the punishment to be equivalent to the crime.
Under a retributive system of penology, it is important to determine if the proportion will be determined based on the amount of harm, on the unfair advantage, or the moral imbalance that has developed as a result of the crime that was committed.
Critics claim that retribution is a poor basis for a criminal justice system due to the maxim that “two wrongs do not make a right.”