5 Primary Objectives of the Criminal Justice System

Although theories abound on the purposes of the U.S. criminal law system (or criminal justice system), there exist five primary and largely recognized objectives:

  1. Retribution
  2. Deterrence
  3. Rehabilitation
  4. Incapacitation
  5. Restoration


Historically, the concept of retribution was the main thrust of prosecution and sentencing in the U.S. criminal justice system. I believe that it still is today.  In the simplest of terms, a person was prosecuted and, if convicted, punished for the crime committed. Hence, the common moniker utilized in the U.S. criminal justice system in reference to prisons: penal system.


Another objective of the U.S. criminal justice system is deterrence of future crimes. Deterrence actually operates on two fronts. First, the subject of a particular case is to be deterred from future criminality as the result of the punishment imposed upon him or her through the prosecution, conviction and sentencing within the criminal justice system. Second, the system is designed to deter other individuals from engaging in criminal conduct.


Ultimately, the concept of rehabilitation became a part of the overall scheme of objectives associated with the U.S. criminal justice system. As an aside, this concept gave rise to the term correctional institution.
Through rehabilitation, the hope was that a criminal offender could be reformed, rehabilitated. This process is designed to rehabilitate a criminal offender to better ensure that he or she will engage in gainful activities when released from incarceration. The process is designed to decrease the rate of recidivism among criminal offenders.


Another objective of the system is to incapacitate or remove a criminal offender from society, for a specified period of time. This is designed to penalize an offender but it also theoretically is designed to protect society at large.


For a free legal consultation, call (610) 680-7842

A fairly recently devised concept oftentimes included within the objectives of the criminal justice and penal system is restorative justice. This means an aspect of the system is to restore justice in the aftermath of criminality. This includes striving to restore people who were victimized by a criminal offender.

Legal Representation

When an individual faces criminal charges, it is crucial that contact be made promptly with a skilled Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney. A Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer will schedule a no-cost initial consultation with an individual to discuss his or her case.

Call or text (610) 680-7842 or complete a Free Case Evaluation form