Incapacitation [Sentencing] Law & Legal Definition


The term “incapacitation” when used in the context of sentencing philosophy refers to the effect of a sentence in terms of positively preventing the sentenced person from committing future offenses. This concept is different from the theory of specific deterrence in which an offender is punished to make him/her understand the specific consequences of his/her offense. Incapacitation aims to prevent future crimes by taking away the offender’s ability to commit offenses.

Pursuant to this theory, offenders are not rehabilitated. Criminals are put in jail not to teach them the consequence of their actions but to bring them under such an environment where they would not be able to engage in crime. Imprisonment incapacitates the prisoner by physically removing them from the society where they have committed the crime. Back-to-back life sentences, three-strikes sentencing, and other habitual offender laws are all examples of incapacitation.

Pursuant to 18 U.S.C.S § 3553, one of the purposes of criminal sentencing is to "protect the public from further crimes of the defendant." Incapacitation can be taken as a measure to effectuate the purposes of this section.