Theories of sanctioning are developments from labeling theories. In contrast to labeling or deterrence theories, sanctioning theories assume that punishment can have different effects in different contexts.
Theories of sanctioning examine the effect of punishment. As a further development of labelling approaches, their main focus is on the re-integrating function of penalties.
On the basis of this basic consideration, they examine the exact effect of punishment. The particular interest lies in recognizing which factors determine the effectiveness of punishment. In other words, it is about determining why in some cases a punishment acts as a deterrent and in others not. They do this by examining the process of punishment and identifying variables that influence the offender’s response to his punishment. So sanctioning theories are not crime theories in themselves, they do not explain the emergence of primary deviance.
Criminological theory is always political. Any theory that explains how criminal behaviour occurs implies a certain procedure for criminal policy to prevent crime. Traditionally, two separate positions can be identified. On the one hand, there are rational choice approaches. These suggest that crime can best be prevented by deterrence. Many politicians, especially conservative ones, also like to call for increased penalties and tougher police measures to get social problems under control.
Interactionist theories and conflict theories see criminal law and prosecution primarily as political instruments. Labeling theories state that criminal behaviour is produced by punishment in the first place. In their more radical forms, they often go as far as completely denying the relevance of the individual delinquent act and above all the individual perpetrator. For them, punishment is not a suitable means of fighting crime. On the contrary, they see punishment as a stigmatizing means which leads to secondary deviance and thus to a worsening of the problem.
Theories of sanctioning try to strike a balance between these two assumptions. They are strongly tied to the restorative justice movements. Their two main theorists are John Braithwaite (Reintegrative Shaming) and Lawrence W. Sherman (Defiance Theory), with Sherman explicitly referring to Braithwaite and developing his theory further.