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 removing the ability of the offenders to commit future crimes.[1]

In his 2004 article, Levitt attributes part of the decline to the inability of inmates to [recidivate] as sentences for crimes, especially for repeat offenders, had been greatly increase. Examples of these laws include back-to-back life sentences, three-strikes sentencing, and other habitual offender laws. 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." Quite simply, those incarcerated can not commit further crimes against society.


The crime rate in the United States unexpectedly fell sharply in the 1990s, in almost all demographic and geographic areas, and a portion of the drop has been attributed to the incapacitation effect.[1]

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.


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