Incapacitation (penology)

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Incapacitation in the context of sentencing philosophy refers to the effect of a sentence in terms of positively preventing (rather than merely deterring) future offending.

Imprisonment incapacitates the prisoner by physically removing them from the society against which they are deemed to have offended. Long term imprisonment with the intention to incapacitate is often used by criminal justice systems against habitual criminals who recidivate. Incapacitation also focuses on offenders potential to commit future crimes.


Examples of incapacitation include back-to-back life sentences, three-strikes sentencing, and other habitual offender laws.

Cutting off a hand of a thief is also an example; this acts to prevent further thefts in a drastic manner, in addition to it having a perceived deterrent effect on others.

In the United States, 18 U.S.C. § 3553 states that one of the purposes of criminal sentencing is to "protect the public from further crimes of the defendant."

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