Punishment and Fairness, Comparative Nature of Punishment


The whole concept of punishment in America is warped. Historically it amounted to simply time in hell. From a prisoner’s point of view the torture (beatings, rape, psychological abuse, inadequate food, lack of medical care – pain, limb loss, death) was equal if not worse than losing what you left behind. The reality is that those that are poor often lose job, savings, house, all possessions, family (divorces are common), and children even for short sentences. The wealthy have only lost a little time and then come back and resurrect their life using their money.

For a while prisons had some element of rehabilitation. Now there is very little – beautician training for women and furniture building for men. They are run by incompetent, ignorant, patronage workers and profiteers. As our leaders have been so inept that small town America has lost most industry, we built prisons in a lot of small towns to provide jobs. If you build too many prisons, you have to fill them. You have to give excessive sentences, no rehabilitation so prison becomes a revolving door, and abuse the law (police etc.) in arresting the innocent and using prisons as mental health warehouses and warehouses for the addicted.

There are very few of these officials who give a damn, let alone know anything useful. The politicians and policy makers are so far from the factory floor of reality in America that hope for realistic and helpful policies is dim.

The main thing prisoners learn right now is hate for the system, for the police, for the courts, for the guards and officials. Abuse of prisoners leads to this viscious cycle. I’m just really surprised that the body count of officers, lawyers, and judges isn’t higher.

The second thing they learn is how to be better criminals. When you return to society without a job, with stigma, having lost everything – what do you think most do! All of you are naive if you think prison has ANY element of justice.

Justice to me is not just punishment – it is rehabilitation so that society can welcome the prisoner back into society as a productive citizen. There is none of this – been there and I’m innocent!

The answer to me is to limit the number of lawyers in Congress and legislatures to 49% of the total and to appoint two non-lawyers to the U.S. Supreme Court, and every State Supreme Court in the land. Heh! I’m ready for the job!

I respectfully find the concept of the “comparative nature of punishment” to be irrelevant. What is punishment? Should it be pure retribution on one extreme or should it be analyzing the danger to society from the offender and the motivation, strengths, weaknesses, and rehabilitation potential of the offender, and then making a plan to transform the offender to a productive citizen, and if need be confining him or restricting his liberty in some way for the protection of society, at the other extreme? There is a little of this in theory in the practice of criminal law today, but none in reality. At least in C[r]ook County Illinois, presentence reports go into a big black hole and emotion and passion of the prosecutor, as well as political corruption determine sentencing.

Comparing unpunished “baseline condition” to “worst, punished condition” as Prof. Kolber suggests only deals with retribution. This is only half of the equation.

I wonder if we are asking the right questions. Is excessive imprisonment and forced poverty and destruction of offenders family, along with the costs this brings to society the answer to crime? I don’t think so, but this is the present system of “justice” in America today.

Let’s rethink “punishment”, think out of the box, start at ground zero and bring reality and rationality back into “justice.” What about mental health care, treating addiction as a disease, restorative justice, community service, education, and removing corruption and politics from the equation? I see a lot of lip service about this in Illinois, talking the talk, but no walking the walk.

From the Blog: Sentencing Law and Policy: A comment -

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 15, 2008 12:52:42 AM

What is the obsession with squashing every convict like a bug? To what end?

This country needs to learn that not everyone needs to go to jail for 20+ years and lose everything they’ve ever known, accomplished, saved or done.

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