I hate punitive justice.
That type of justice that says people ought to be punished, and locks them up in jail for years where they can be emotionally and physically abused by fellow inmates, guards, and by the sheer isolation and confinement.
I know why people love punitive justice, too.
People are animals, all of us. When someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back. We want revenge. Revenge makes us feel like we're in control. When someone makes us feel powerless, it feels like the only way to take our power back is by making that person pay -- making them powerless.
Even if we haven't been hurt directly, when someone enters that realm of "criminal," "bad-guy," "villain," then we all want to see them suffer. Just look at all the people, who have probably never been sexually abused, sneering and joking about how they can't wait for Jared Fogel to get raped in prison. Look at the people who weren't even alive for WWII, thrilled to see 90-year old former Nazis being found and jailed.
This response is natural, and human. We are social creatures, and we long to protect each other. When someone rapes a child, or is involved in terror and genocide, we all take it personally. We want to stop them, and protect the victims. Some would say people who have crossed that line don't deserve to live, or be part of society anymore.
That's one way to look at it -- the cold, fierce, human way.
The way we respond to violent offenders, ironically, is a reflection of that violence within ourselves. When we gain joy in the suffering of the criminal, we are reveling in the same cruelty the criminal held in his heart when he committed the crime.
Moreover, it doesn't solve anything.
We're so obsessed with who "deserves" to be punished, we don't consider the outcomes. Put a rapist in jail for ten years. Callously rejoice as he is sexually abused by his cell mate. Set him free on the world again. What do you have now, but a more violent man than you put in?
I'm not saying that we shouldn't jail rapists, of course. In fact, anybody who presents a danger to society ought to be jailed. Prison makes a lot of sense when it is used to keep criminals from hurting anybody else.
But consider the case of Cornealious Michael "Mike" Anderson III. He committed an armed robbery in 2000, and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. Due to a hilariously bureaucratic clerical error, the prison wouldn't let him check in for his sentence, because the computers said he was already checked in. He waited for it to be sorted out, but nothing happened.
He went on with his life.
He met his wife, got married, and founded a company in the intervening years. The prison only noticed that he wasn't there the year he was scheduled for release.
Imagine if he'd gone to jail, instead of being allowed to "get away with his crime." Imagine he'd gotten the punishment he "deserved." Decent chance he'd be involved in a gang, have new scars, and far from owning his own company, he would find himself unemployable due to his criminal record. He might be so broke, he'd consider turning to robbery again.
Is that really better?
Nope. It's clear in this case that punitive justice would have only served to cause more harm to society.
But we want so badly to see people punished.
It's so easy to dehumanize people. Violent offenders dehumanize their victims in order to exploit them, but then in turn, we dehumanize the offenders. Yet we don't see the irony there.
We don't see that the capacity for cruelty and lust for blood is within every single one of us. We "law abiding citizens" merely get our fix of schadenfreude by watching criminals suffer.
So, what would I propose, then? How should criminal justice be dealt with?
Fuck, I don't know.
There are people out there who are dangerous, and abusive, and who can't be rehabilitated or changed. They are so fundamentally warped, there is no re-integrating them. They need to be put away where they can't hurt innocent people. Perhaps, yes, even executed.
Then there are those who made a mistake, who got swept up in something, who were indoctrinated in a toxic culture or attitude, who were desperate and saw no other choice, or who were just so hopeless and alone.
Those people deserve a chance.
The only problem is, how do you tell the difference? Can you discern between a genuinely repentant heart, and one that is lying through its teeth? Mistaking a reformed rapist who has rejected their toxic entitlement and is crushed by their own guilt with one who will do it all over again and hide the evidence is a life-destroying error for the next victim.
Hence: fuck. I don't know. But I think the first step is just to try.
Anyone who can be rehabilitated ought to be. That should be our first priority: how to get offenders to the point where they can be productive, safe members of society. That doesn't involve emotional or physical cruelty, but training, therapy, and support. If they harmed society, then the consequence should be for them to give back, and help heal the damage they caused.
That would actually lead to a positive outcome, as opposed to the old "eye for an eye" justice that leaves everyone scarred.
If someone is non-violent, if they no longer pose any threat, then what is the point of imprisoning them? I hear reasons like, "there need to be consequences," and "they can't just get away with it," or, "to make an example."
Fuck that. Why must there be consequences, if all those consequences mean is more damage?
Punishment makes us feel like we have power, or control. It makes us feel good about ourselves, but often it serves no purpose whatsoever. It's simply revenge. And I staunchly do not believe in that.
The only way to fight cruelty, violence, and dehumanization is to root it out wherever it exists -- not just in "them," but within ourselves. That includes removing punishment for punishment's sake from our notion of justice.