Retributive justice is a legal principal that dictates that punishment for a crime is acceptable as long as it is a proportionate response to the crime committed. In this type of justice system, a crime is typically seen as being done against the state or government, rather than against an individual or community. As such, it is left to the state to seek justice in terms of punishment against the individual who has perpetrated the crime. It is often associated with concepts such as “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and similar ideas regarding punishment.
In most respects, retributive justice seeks to punish a person for a crime in a way that is seen as compensatory for the crime. This type of justice system will often use imprisonment, loss of property, and even loss of life in an effort to see that someone who commits a crime is punished in a way that is proportionate to the crime that has been committed. The sense of proportion, however, can vary greatly depending on the society, and so this form of justice can be significantly different in different areas.
For example, someone who has committed murder may be punished in various ways by different systems. In some systems, a person who takes a life forfeits his or her own life and may be put to death as punishment. Other systems may see lifelong imprisonment as sufficient punishment, since it often takes away all the potential a person had in his or her life much as someone else’s potential was taken away by the murder. There is also a school of thought that focuses less upon the harm done by a crime, and rather looks to the unfair advantages that may have been gained through the crime.
This type of examination of a crime is often used in civil matters, especially as it relates to financial benefits gained unfairly. One of the major criticisms against retributive justice is that it often creates a system in which abuses can occur, and punishment may not be proportionate for the crime committed. In an effort to prevent this type of abuse, many systems utilize minimum and maximum punishments that can be given to keep punishment as equal as possible. This can lead to other problems, however, since equal is not always fair, and the same fine levied against someone who is wealthy and someone who is poor rarely creates the same severity of punishment for each person.