Utilitarianism and Criminal Justice

Utilitarianism and Criminal Justice

The article, ‘In Sentencing, Utilitarianism vs. Retributivism, by Alan Gershel, refers to utilitarianism as a theory applicable in the justice system while sentencing individuals according to their criminal acts. He goes on further to say that the approach’s main concern is providing a ruling that gives members of a community a certain sense of protection while still aiming to discourage others from indulging in similar practices. This deterrence usually appears in two ways: firstly to prevent the general community from practicing criminal activities and, secondly, to prevent the same individual from repeating their mistakes. He then compares the concept to retributivism which concerns itself only with the suspect’s background and criminal culpability (Gershel, 2019).

Many typical issues arise through the interaction of utilitarianism and criminal justice. The concept advocates for the existence of a limit, in the punishment of criminals, with a close relationship to the rehabilitation of those individuals. This latter consideration aims at helping the sentenced individuals to pull through with their reprimands by providing them with medical care and other essential amenities. Another precept that arises is that, although it is vital that the ruling satisfies the society’s vengeance to a considerable level, it should not determine the sentencing inconsiderately since it is the aim of the justice system to be proportionate. Proportionality in this sense means that individuals should receive punishment based on the crimes they committed.

According to Alan, another distinctive issue between utilitarianism and criminal justice is deterrence of the general community from engaging in such activities that might force law enforcers and the jury to inflict pain, which is against the principles of utilitarianism (Gershel, 2019). Actions by the criminal justice arm should be to a minimum, a level only to reprimand offenders for their mistakes and to prevent similar events prospectively.



Gershel, A. (2019). In Sentencing, Utilitarianism vs. Retributivism – NYTimes.com. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/02/18/affluenza-and-life-circumstances-in-sentencing/in-sentencing-utilitarianism-vs-retributivism