Preferences of 800 randomly selected Australians for retributive and utilitarian sentencing purposes were examined in response to brief crime scenarios where offender age, offence type and offender history were systematically varied. Respondents selected rehabilitation as the most important purpose for first-time, young and burglary offenders. Punishment was endorsed as most important for repeat, adult and serious assault offenders. Multinomial logistic regression analysis revealed that offence history was a stronger predictor of public preferences than offender age or offence type; the odds of choosing rehabilitation compared with punishment were significantly increased by a factor of 6.1 for cases involving first-time offenders. It appears that when given specific cases to consider, the public takes an approach akin to that taken by the sentencing courts as they weigh up the importance of the various purposes for the case at hand. Public preferences are thus broadly consistent with current law and sentencing practice.