02 January 2009

The nature of justice

I had an interesting conversation tonight about crime and punishment. There were numerous disagreements, which I always find interesting, and some of these I put forth to you.

Overall, I am in favour of restorative, rather than retributive justice. There was general agreement on this point that it is better to have a criminal/lawbreaker make amends (not just payment) in a manner which either fixes or mitigates the crime. There are certain crimes however, for which amends is either difficult or impossible. Examples which were put forth included murder, rape, and child abuse. The question is this: What is the best reaction on the part of society for these?

Several options were put forth as better than the current lock them up for a variable number of years and then release them.
 1)One suggestion was to lock them up permanently until a way can be found to permanently rehabilitate them. Arguments against this included that it is a fairly slim hope at this point, that it would be cruel to lock them up until death, and that it would be a burden on the rest of society that they should not have to bear.
2) Another, and counter, suggestion was that those who cannot be rehabilitated, or whose crimes go beyond restorative actions should be killed, thus removing them from further damaging the society or being a burden on it. The main argument against this was that it removed all hope from them.
 3) A less lethal option was put forth in that these offenders should be sterilized, to prevent them passing on these behaviours to potential offspring, and in the case of sexual offenders, mandatory castration (chemical). 4) Exile was also discussed as something that has been effective in smaller communities or tribal cultures, but was dismissed as ineffectual due to our present population density and ease of travel -it was deemed to be equivalent to imprisonment.

This is a topic of much controversy, and still requires a close examination of the effectiveness of the legal system to determine guilt or innocence. It was argued that the adversarial system is not effective or accurate enough, and that a better option was needed.

I myself tend to think that our society as a whole needs to start looking at our rules, laws and judicial system more critically. Punishment serves no-one. If questions of judicial precision can be addressed, then in the case of these offenses mentioned above, I think that options 2 or 3 would be viable. This also happened to be the majority consensus of the people involved in the discussion. Naturally, it would be better if rehabilitation methods could be developed, if society could start promoting rather than discouraging a sense of personal responsibility. Then we could begin moving towards a more restorative, and less retributive, justice system.

What do you think? Are there options that we have overlooked? Discuss!

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