It seems to me that nothing can right the wrongs of the past. Can one really pay for crime? What currency equals human pain and death? How can one pay a debt to society?

An eye for an eye seems equal but only if it can be transplanted. Yet human beings are generally dedicated to retaliation and revenge, to get satisfaction from criminals by inflicting pain on them. I question the idea that justice requires punishment for crime.

From practical and social points of view, little or nothing is gained in matching evil with more evil. Parents discipline children so that they can be directed into patterns of good behavior. But doing this by beating them teaches a bad lesson: that doing harm to self or others must be matched with equal harm. The theory that punishing felons deters future felony is not well supported by evidence. However, it feels good to hurt someone who has hurt you.

Prisons used to be called reformatories and penitentiaries. Those names assumed that people could change while removed from society for everyone’s safety. Some evil or sick people have to be restrained long-term, unfortunately. But society seems to want jails to get back at wrong-doers and make them suffer, whether it changes them or not.

Money restoration makes some sense, but lockups do not pay unless they reform lives; instead they cost a lot. Good people who have done wrong want to compensate and atone for their crimes, but that is their business. Society does not owe them penance.

The idea behind all of this is revenge. I think that is as much a crime as the crime for which it is retaliation. Let us name vengeance evil and sin, fight against it in our minds and emotions, and try to eliminate it from law and discourse. There are practical ways to improve society that restore people to good citizenship or protect them from themselves and us.

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