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Just Deserts Model: Definition & Theory

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  • 0:01 Definition of the Just…
  • 0:36 Theory
  • 1:12 Examples
  • 2:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn the criminal theory of just deserts. Examine the definition of the just deserts model, review some examples, and gain a thorough understanding of the theory as it relates to criminology.

Definition of the Just Deserts Model

Have you ever heard the saying 'let the punishment fit the crime'? Well, this is the philosophy behind the just deserts model of justice. The phrase represents the idea of a fair and appropriate punishment related to the severity of the crime that was committed.

Just deserts is sometimes referred to as the 'retribution' type of sentencing. In other words, one should be punished simply because one committed a crime. Throughout history, the idea of retribution for the commission of a crime can best be explained in the Old Testament quote 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.'

Theory

So, what exactly is the just deserts philosophy? Under just deserts, those who commit crimes deserve to be punished. Moreover, the severity of the punishment should be commensurate with the severity of the crime. In other words, as stated at the outset, the punishment should fit the crime.

In addition, according to just deserts, the punishment of the offender must be fairly and equally apportioned to all individuals who commit the same crimes. This can sometimes be a controversial area of the theory, as the circumstances surrounding the commission of crimes vary; therefore, the equality of the punishment can be a tricky area.

Examples

Since just deserts involves punishment that fits the crime, it follows that a severe offense will receive an equally severe punishment. Conversely, under just deserts, a minor offense will receive a less severe punishment. Let's look at an example.

Imagine that A murders B after a scuffle in a bar. Following a trial, A is found guilty. Under the just deserts model, A's penalty must reflect the commission of the murder. Consequently, A is sentenced to life imprisonment.

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