How Many R's in Correction?
I am going to work on being more thorough in my posts for the next few weeks. I have a number of areas I would like to pontificate on, and specifically want to explore putting more of how the broader issues I raise relate to where I am currently on the road of life.
The title of this post has been bouncing around in my gray matter for several weeks.
How many R's in CORRECTION? Retribution Revenge Rehabilitation Recovery Remorse Reconciliation
All of the above words are used at one time or another when it comes to discussing the purpose of the American justice system. The problem is that when you have such varied purposes, it becomes very easy to have any discussion on the subject hijacked and derailed by bringing up another R word.
In law, I have found that when one brings up a valid argument to prove that the government is in the wrong, they will very often respond with a totally different argument.
My simplified example, you are working on proving the existence of a fruit bearing tree in your back yard. You are able to produce pictures that show the tree, complete with fruit on its branches, fresh fruit from said tree and multiple third party witnesses to the fact that the fruit bearing tree exist.
The state, for whatever reason, has a vested interest in proving that no such tree ever existed on your property. They would launch into an argument that proves beyond a doubt that the sky is blue. They would prove the fact, complete with competent experts, glossy photos complete with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back. The government would tell the courts that having proved the sky is blue it should now rule in its favor and declare there is no fruit bearing tree in your yard. The court concurs and there you have it, Justice at the very best.
What does this have to do with all the R words? When it comes to looking at the justice metered out to individuals, you will find that given a similar set of circumstances as respects the crime committed, the action taken against each individual will be different. Some of those differences might be due to the social position of either the perpetrator or the victim.
I have mentioned in the past the retired police office that was sentenced to not more than four years for killing the clerk at a local convenience store. The recent killings of two New York City Police resulted in the NY Governor Pataki calling a special session of the state legislature. The purpose of this special session was to increase the penalties for attacking law enforcement officers throughout New York State.
The increased penalties will not be applicable to the perpetrators who killed the policemen, but will apply to any future violence against law enforcement officers.
The question is which R are we applying to the retired office that by all accounts caused the death of another human being while horsing around with a loaded weapon, and which R do we want to apply to the killers of law enforcement personal?
How would you explain to the family of the convenience store clerk that not only are we not going to work on changing the punishment for all convenience store operators in the future, but your loved ones death is not really all that big a deal?
If one would take a poll, some might say that the R words they would apply to the retired policeman might be remorse and reconciliation. The ones responsible for killing the police, revenge and retribution, would probably be the top choices. Retribution is the one word that is clearly embodied in the application of the death penalty. (And how do we deal with those case that we later find out we have executed an innocent person!)
The recent execution of the former gang member in California is certainly a clear case where there was two separate groups competing for their own sense of justice.
Many people wanted to use rehabilitation and remorse to describe the former gang member, while others clearly were pushing for the revenge and retribution.
The final chapter of the issue found the man executed by the state of California, with many seeking a national forum by speaking out at his funeral services.
This is just the start of some tough questions I hope to raise and ask that you feel free to comment along the way.
Do you really want a legal system that is run on popular opinion? And you can be sure there are many aspects of popular opinion to be discussed
Should who the victim of a crime is have any bearing on the punishment?
It is important to understand that what I am writing about here is the punishment applied based on the same crime. For example there are different crimes related to stealing depending on the value taken. The higher the value taken, the longer the prison sentence. That makes sense.
But the system also allows two different individuals charged with stealing $500 for example, to receive two different sentences. If one was the perpetrator of stealing from a tourist in Midtown Manhattan he (or she) would probably end up with a harsher sentence than an individual that stole the money from a neighbor in one of the city's poorer neighborhoods.
Look at it from the standpoint of the victim, would you feel slighted if you were the one that got ripped off in the poor neighborhood? What about if the one that stole from the tourist needed money to feed his family?
One overall question that I would like you to keep in mind, can you begin to see how important it is to allow the free and open discussion of issues? Is the lack of any intelligent discussion a failure to educate ourselves so that we can look at different sides of an issue or are we failing to participate in the discussion due to apathy?
One other possibility. What about the laws and programs that might be good for others, but for what ever reason the issue does not effect you, so we do not care what is done. The old Not-In-My-Backyard excuse.