Across academic disciplines and differing epistemologies there are multiple and diverse ways of theorizing what justice is and how it is achieved. Two of the more common approaches distinguish between “distributive” and “retributive” forms of justice, as they are related, respectively, to the burden and benefits of economic activity and to the use of punishment. This chapter will explore several of these theories, looking first at different distributive approaches and, second, at four predominant theories of punishment: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation. The primary goals of the chapter are thus to detail the assumptions of justice within these different theories and to explicate some of the historical contexts of their use and application in the United States.
The Encyclopedia of Theoretical Criminology