Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
When a thief in Chicago stole a motorcycle, the press reported, the victim, who knew the thief, was not particularly interested in seeing the thief punished, just in getting his motorcycle back. By the time the police caught the thief, he had sold the motorcycle. He received a suspended sentence. The victim was told he would have to sue the thief if he wanted his money back. What is wrong with his story? It does not satisfy our sense of justice because justice means that everyone gets what he or she deserves. Justice should mean helping victims as well as punishing offenders. This story and our criminal justice system ignore the problem of restoring fairness for victim as a principle of justice. We set two primary foals for our criminal penalties. We want them to deter crime and we want them to rehabilitate criminals. In theory, these two goals should go together, since they amount to saying that we want to keep crime from happening in the first place, through deterrence, and to keep crime from happening again, through rehabilitation. In practice, these two goals seem incompatible, since the harsh penalties that might work as deterrents offer little hope for rehabilitation, while the supportive treatments that might work as rehabilitation seem inadequate as deterrents. Curiously, however, neither deterring crime nor rehabilitating offenders is a principle of justice. Our sense of justice requires that penalties be proportionate to their crimes. Suppose we took restoring fairness as the first principle of our criminal justice system, instead of either deterrence or rehabilitation. What would such a system look like? Simply put, offenders would be given sentences whose purpose, in the end, was to restore both the loss that the victims had suffered and the loss that society suffered through its investment in preventing, detecting, and punishing crimes. Where possible, this could involve labour directly related to recovering...
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