Alternative Punishments

alternative punishments

Punishment refers to the sanction given in case of violation of law. Indian justice system always followed the rehabilitation and restoration method unless the offence is very grave where the sentencing extends to capital punishment. The Indian Penal Code under Chapter III provides for various punishments which are imposed under the Code for specific offences. The punishments as prescribed under Section 53 of the Code are-

  • Death penalty
  • Imprisonment for life
  • Imprisonment for specified term which can be either rigorous or simple in nature
  • Forfeiture of property
  • Fine.

These punishments are imposed on the offenders who commit any offence defined under the Code depending upon the gravity of the offence. Thus, death penalty is awarded only in rarest of rare cases and it is always untouched unless such grave offence has been committed by the offender.

Indian judiciary has always exercised its discretion in sentencing with a view to reform the society and to minimise the number of crimes. In the case of Mohammed Giasuddin v. State of Andhra Pradesh[i], Justice V R Krishna Iyer observed that, Judges should be given with wide range of options in sentencing the criminals so as to cure the criminal. The Apex Court, in this case, considered criminal as a patient and he must be cured because the Court relied upon the argument that no human is a born criminal and hence, he can be cured. Therefore, reformation of criminal and helping him in re-socializing must be the aim of the justice administration system.

Considering the above-mentioned view of the Apex Court, various alternative punishments can be recognized with respect to the reformative and restoration aspect of the criminal justice system. The following are the various alternative punishments to the punishments prescribed under Section 53 of IPC.

In India, alternative punishment can take place at 3 stages of the criminal justice system-

  • At the pre-trial stage
  • At the sentencing stage
  • At post-sentencing stage

At the pre-trial stage-

The available alternative at this stage is compounding of offence where the offence is of less severe in nature. Also, this alternative is available where the Court considers that compounding of such offence will not be unjust to the victim and will provide the accused an opportunity to reform and restore the damage caused by him.

Section 320 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 exclusively provides for compounding of offences. The provision provides for a list of compoundable offences and the list also prescribes the person by whom such offences may be compounded. The provision further mentions that if the offence is compoundable then the abetment or attempt of such offence is also compoundable.

At the sentencing stage-

At this stage, there can be 3 alternative punishments. They are-

  • Release on admonition
  • Release on probation
  • Customised Community Sentences

Section 360 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides for the first two alternatives. The provision creates alternative punishments which the Court may consider in specified circumstances as mentioned under the provision. This provision considers 2 categories of offenders-

(1) any person who is not under 21 years of age and is convicted of an offence punishable with fine only or with imprisonment for a term less than 7 years. Also, the person is a first-time offender. Under these circumstances, he will be released on probation.

(2) any person who has committed an offence which is punishable with imprisonment for a term less than 2 years and the person may or may not be a first-time offender. Then, the court may release him after admonition.

However, this provision shall not be applied where the provisions of the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 are applicable. This view was upheld by the Supreme Court in State through S.P., New Delhi v. Rathan Lal Arora[ii]. Further, the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 provides probation as an alternative to sentencing to imprisonment in cases involving young offenders. The main objective of this Act is to prevent the young offenders turning to be criminals by avoiding handing them over to the prisons and also methods are adopted to attempt for their possible reformation.

The third alternative at this stage is the community services. These are not popularly recognised by the legislation. The Juvenile Justice Act recognises the benefits of community services in case of juveniles and thus it has limited usage. This alternative may be extended to young offenders under the Probation of Offenders Act.

At Post-Sentencing Stage

At this stage, there are many alternatives available to sentencing the offenders to imprisonment. The alternatives may be in the form of parole, pardon, remission, short sentencing schemes, etc. At this stage, the Court may order for temporary imprisonment mechanisms such as parole and open prisons. The method of open prison is now in the process of getting institutionalised. Open prison is an easy method to implement in cases where the offender has been sentenced for long term imprisonment and has shown improvements in his behaviour.

These are the various alternative punishments which are available to the criminal justice system which believes in reformation and rehabilitation of the criminals who are desiring to be good citizens of the nation by realising the consequences of their acts.

“The views of the authors are personal

Frequently Asked Questions-

Can the offences be compounded if the person competent to compound the offence is having any legal incapacities such as infancy or lunacy?

Yes, the compounding of offence where the person competent to compound the offence is a minor or is a lunatic then, any person competent to enter into contract on behalf of such incapacitated person can compound the offence with the permission of the Court. This is in accordance with Section 320(4)(a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.


[i]1977 (3) SCC 287

[ii] AIR 2004 SC 2480

Bharati T V
I am Bharati T V, a student of 5 Year B. A. LL. B from Ramaiah College of Law, Bengaluru. I have a keen interest in exploring various facets of the legal profession. Constitutional law, Corporate laws, and Intellectual Property Rights are my areas of interest. I am passionate about researching and analyzing the provisions of various legislations. The most exciting experiences in my law school are Moot Courts and ADR Competitions which have enhanced my researching skills. I am a great lover of Carnatic Classical Music.