Expiation Theory of Punishment
Law deals with punishment for an offence. However, from time to time, various theories relating to punishment have evolved whereby offenders are punished according to the theory. Punishment in simple terms means something done to a person which he does not like. And the reason of punishment is because the person punished broke some rule.
However, according to law, punishment is some pain or penalty warranted by law, inflicted on a person, for the commission of a crime, or for the omission of the performance of an act required by law, by the judgement and command of some lawful court.
Every theory of punishment has its own purpose. As for instance, restitution deals with petty offences for which fines are imposed as punishment. While the theory of rehabilitation deals with the treatment of offenders and their counselling for transforming into law abiding citizens. On the other hand, incapacitation deals with rendering the offender incapacitated to commit further crimes by punishing him with death penalty or house arrest.
Expiation theory of punishment
To expiate is the act to show that you are sorry for a particular act committed which is counted as bad behaviour by society by undergoing some form of punishment. Such punishments are based on morals of the society. The sole purpose of this punishment was to make the offender feel guilty of his act and transform into a responsible citizen of the society. This theory believes that repentance or expiating for own fault itself serves the purpose of punishment. Once the person realises that his act was wrong and that he should not commit the same in future, the purpose of expiation theory is solved.
Thus if the offender expiates, he must be forgiven. However, according to the modern concept of expiation theory of punishment, the offender must pay compensation amount to the victim for all the loss that happened to him, which will be discussed later. In the ancient concept, compensation was not recognised. The ancient theory was recognised in ancient criminal law wherein no codified laws relating to offences were laid down.
The expiation theory has little to do with law or legal concepts. It is the most ancient form of punishment which was mostly based on social and religious customs rather than on legal concepts. This theory is more related to ancient religious perceptions regarding crime and punishment for crime when the prisoners were placed in isolated cells to repent or expiate for their crime from the core of their heart and resolve to shun crime. Thus the ancient concept of expiation theory of punishment solely dealt with making the offender realise his offence and transform him into a good citizen so that he does not commit further crime in future. There is no system of sending a criminal to jail or granting him death penalty for his act under this theory but only his rehabilitation.
The theory remains the same even under the modern concept, however the only change brought by modern experts was the monetary change. Under the modern concept, the offender has to pay some decided amount of compensation to the victim of the offence.
Modern experts believe that even though the offender realises his guilt and never commits the offence in future, this will not compensate for the loss or damage caused to the victim. Thus under the new concept, although it is important for the offender to realise his mistake to solve the purpose of expiation theory, it is also mandatory to compensate the victim the damage that occurred to him. The modern theory also believes that by awarding compensation to the victim from the pocket of the wrong doer, he is punished and also prevented from doing such offences in future life. Moreover, this could also make the public aware that committing a crime would lead to compensating the victim, thus a financial loss to the offender, which could in turn restrict the general public from committing crimes.
Thus while the other theories of punishment lays emphasis on punishing the offender by awarding imprisonment or death penalty to him, the expiation theory of punishment also takes into account the victim apart from punishing the offender with financial punishment.
Comparison with Reformative theory of punishment
The most common point among both the theories of punishment is that it aims at the reformation of the offender which often leads to confusion between the two theories. However, they are not same.
The Reformative theory takes into account the age, gender, occupation, etc. of the offender while the expiation theory does not consider any such factor while awarding punishment. Reformative theory of punishment reforms the offender by providing him education, vocational training, physical or intellectual training or some form of art or experience. However, the expiation theory reforms the offender merely by imposing financial punishment which may or may not reform the offender. The only positive about expiation theory is that it takes into account the victim as well apart from the offender unlike Reformative theory which considers only the reformation of the offender.
Criticisms of the theory
After reading the entire theory, one may understand that the expiation theory of punishment is not of much relevance in today’s world. Mere financial punishment does not solve the purpose of ending crime and reforming criminals.
It is sufficient to punish only the less serious type of offences as for instance, defamation, trespass, tort, etc. Such theory of punishment can not be used for heinous crimes such as murder, rape, etc. In the present age of modernism and declining human values, expiation can hardly be used as a tool in reforming criminals and bringing about a change in the criminal mentality of the offenders. Moreover, it is a no punishment for the economically higher sections of the society. Rich people can commit serious crimes and do away with it by paying compensation to victims and committing same crime again. Apart from the economically higher sections, even the hardened criminals can not be reformed by the expiation theory. It is useless for regular criminals.
In a nutshell it could be said that the expiation theory of punishment has become extinct today. It was in use only when people believed in moral values and not today. The modern theory can still be used in the penal system, although only for civil wrongs and not for crimes. If a person knows that the punishment for any offence committed by him shall be to expiate for his fault and pay compensation to the victim or his family, he will not hesitate to commit further crimes and ultimately will transform into a hardened criminal. Thus even the modern theory has become obsolete today but is still practiced for certain civil wrongs.