what is “justice”?

uneven hurdles

A couple days before I wrote yesterday’s post, a reader sent me this thought-provoking email:

“Was looking up (something else) on Wikipedia, and found this interesting sub thread for Penal Theory.  I found it very interesting.

“‘In penal theory and the philosophy of punishment, parsimony refers specifically to taking care in the distribution of punishment in order to avoid excessive punishment. In the utilitarian approach to the philosophy of punishment, Jeremy Bentham‘s (1748 – 1832) ‘parsimony principle’ states that any punishment greater than is required to achieve its end is unjust. The concept is related but not identical to the legal concept of proportionality. Parsimony is a key consideration of the modern restorative justice, and is a component of utilitarian approaches to punishment, as well as the prison abolition movement. Bentham believed that true parsimony would require punishment to be individualised to take account of the sensibility of the individual—an individual more sensitive to punishment should be given a proportionately lesser one, since otherwise needless pain would be inflicted. Later utilitarian writers have tended to abandon this idea, in large part due to the impracticality of determining each alleged criminal’s relative sensitivity to specific punishments.’

“So, if we follow Bentham’s ‘parsimony principle’ which states that ‘any punishment greater than is required to achieve its end is unjust’, then for most true parricides (at least those who killed an abusive family member), who we know aren’t really a danger to anyone but their abuser, only minimal incarceration and counseling are really appropriate, and certainly not LWOP.  So then what about ‘Bentham believed that true parsimony would require punishment to be individualized to take account of the sensibility of the individual—an individual more sensitive to punishment should be given a proportionately lesser one, since otherwise needless pain would be inflicted.’?

“Let’s face it, some kids and adults, especially the aforementioned parricides, are much more receptive to appropriate punishment than others, which has always been my problem with mixing criminals by offense committed v. personality/motive.

“What then was the purpose of IDOC’s ‘reception center’, since the judge ordered Lundy and Gingerich to WVCF instead of allowing the reception center to test and do its job?”

In the light of Wednesday’s proceedings at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, it seems to me that the question should also be raised about the purpose for such courts? Rather than focusing on technicalities to the exclusion of all else, shouldn’t our “supreme” courts be open to more substantive but philosophical questions of law?

So often—too often, really—outrageous offenses against what any fair person would say is “fair” are allowed to stand because high courts allow their vision to become so narrowed by esoteric points of law that the question of “justice” never comes up.

Shouldn’t our higher courts be considering things within a wider view than lower courts? There has to be a place where the system can stand back, take a breath, and ask whether higher standards of justice are being met.

In  the present climate of political strife, this perspective cannot be achieved in the Congress and our legislatures. Justice is supposed to be guaranteed by the court system, but obviously it is not.


Groove of the Day

Listen to LaVern Baker and the Gliders performing “Play It Fair”


11 Responses to “what is “justice”?”

  1. March 15, 2014 at 4:44 am

    Well, I find this to be true, not “thought-provoking”. 🙂 I think I did comment something similar in the case of Paul Henry. Furthermore, as kids change rapidly, for a 16 yo Paul Henry it really must feel like he’s paying for the sins of someone else entirely, as he’s just that much different from when he was 12. So any punishment longer than 6-12 months is probably pointless and wrong as the kid’s mind just loses the connection with the person and the crime. I also argued that even if the crime commited equals to 30 years of punishment, those years must be distributed to all who led the things to such an outcome. Starting with those who did not care about the lives and issues of children in broken homes or children with guns at home and children being taught to use guns. Basically, Colt and Paul Henry were just two boys who did something very stupid and very wrong. Which is a definition of a boy (for those who haven’t been one). So, in a proportional system, their individual punishment would probably not even reach 10 % of those 30 years. Or even 5 %.

    Also, many people may not know that some countries do have a proportional punishment system. For example, when it comes to traffic fines. The amount of a fine is not set in number, but in relation to one’s income. So, some people pay millions of euros for traffic violations that only cost someone else hundreds. And I think it’s a brilliant system, as it really makes the punishment hurt equally and thus be equally effective (it’s missing one important detail, but never mind now). Another good example is a 18yo serving in our army (before it became professional). He was once punished with writing a letter to his parents in which he had to say he had been “a bad soldier”. Everyone else would’ve kissed butts for such a punishment, 🙂 but he was brought up differently. Him going to the army was the most proud moment in his parents’ lives so he was crying, shaking and almost had a breakdown. They didn’t even send the letter, of course, but that’s a good example of individual punishment system. And of the need for one.

    Finally, the sheer existance of juvenile courts and institutions is supposed to mean that we do, indeed, recognize that not everyone can or should be treated the same way. And many punishments are in terms of from-to, like 15-30 years. Again, it means we recognize the differences in certain circumstances.

    So why is it that some people refuse to see, realize or admit that throwing a kid into a jail with almost no hope, will not make anything better but much worse? For both the kid and the society. Is it another case of running away from responsibility as Dan argued in an earlier post? Only, we’re not talking about overpaying $100 for a traffic violation. We’re talking about a systematic destruction of children. Their bodies, their minds and their lives. And we are all responsible. The next time you see a kid playing outside, laughing and having a great time with friends, know that the very next day that kid could end up in jail for 30 years.

  2. March 15, 2014 at 7:02 am

    The real problem is that our society currently sees incarceration as an appropriate default punishment for every crime. Incarceration is a tool that should be the exception, not the rule. When a person is arrested as a suspect there are only two reasons to incarcerate him: 1) Public safety and 2) To ensure he will appear for judicial proceedings. We are never permitted to punish anyone until he has been convicted of the crime.

    Once a person has been convicted of a crime, he must be sentenced. There are four considerations: 1) Public safety, 2) Restitution, 3) Rehabilitation, and 4) Punishment. Punishment for the sake of punishment accomplishes no productive purpose and almost always undermines two more important goals: Restitution and Rehabilitation. The only socially useful purpose for incarceration after conviction is Public Safety. When we stop insisting upon punishment and start focusing on restitution and rehabilitation, we will begin to practice justice.

  3. 3 Marie
    March 15, 2014 at 8:54 am

    So in regards to the case of Jordan Brown in Pennsylvania, we should expect that the justices on the “supreme” court, take in the real issue at hand, which is justice, and provide a higher standard of thinking. If after five years, an 11 year old child’s case, lands at the doorstep of the supreme court, and they “take a knee” on a technicality, what then is their purpose? The case already went to the superior court who overturned the verdict. The real question really should have been at that point, did the prosecution even have the right to raise such a technicality after the superior courts ruling? If the prosecution’s main argument is reliant upon a technicality, it seems clear, they have nothing else to offer. If they have nothing else to offer, the superior court is correct in overturning the verdict. Matter of fact, if rule 620 is such an important rule, the prosecution needed to raise that question a long time ago but they did not because they only have technicalities to hold up their case. If rule 620 reads ambiguously, then the defense cannot be held at fault, and the superior court had the right to answer their appeal. This, I suspect, is why they already answered the appeal and overturned the verdict. So why then are we here at the doorstop of the supreme court? We are here because the prosecution is only concerned about winning.

    Society relies upon individual thinkers on the supreme court to focus on justice and to make certain we are not throwing kids away on technicalities. The supreme court is expected to think like the highest court and not like the prosecution team, which relies on ambiguous laws, and loose decisions by juvenile judges that would never have condemned a child had the public been allowed in that court room to see first hand, his error. They need to take a knee. Game over.

  4. 4 Gloria
    March 15, 2014 at 9:13 am

    Could this be how justice is done one day? shocking that even is been thought about it. Could you imagine innocent people, between them children being subjected at this kind of “justice”

    Without any doubt we are losing our humanity so quick. 😦

    When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?”

    Eleanor Rossevelt.

    Could we condemn criminals to suffer for hundreds of years? Biotechnology could let us extend convicts’ lives ‘indefinitely’

    Quoted: This is the scenario being explored by researchers at Oxford University

    They claim life extension tech could mean prisoners serve longer sentences

    Philosopher Dr Rebecca Roache also writes in her blog that a time distortion pill could make people feel like they were in prison longer
    Another scenario the group looked at was uploading mind to a digital realm
    Running it a million times faster than normal would enable the uploaded criminal to serve a 1,000 year sentence in eight-and-a-half hours

    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2580828/Could-soon-create-hell-EARTH-Biotechnology-let-extend-criminals-lives-makes-suffering-HUNDREDS-years.html#ixzz2w2YTQUWF
    Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

    • 5 Simon
      March 15, 2014 at 1:42 pm

      Middleages digital . The digital inmate dont need water and nothing to eat, and he could not make suicide . Terrible imagination! Hope this will never be real !

  5. 6 UKscot
    March 15, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Child incarcerated for 5 years. Of these years of incarceration the first 3 he was innocent, the next year spent guilty ( according to the judge’s ruling) then the next year not guilty ( innocent). And he still remains in prison. Is this happening somewhere the international community would deem ‘third world’ or disregarding of human rights? Apparently a UN committee this week were criticising a US delegation on human right failings which included its mistreatment of juvenile prisoners. Mary McLeod, head of the delegation, said her country was ‘continually striving to improve’. Perhaps they could start ‘improving’ with bringing Jordan’s case to a close or are they holding him under the National Defence Authorization Act and planning on his incarceration being indefinite?!

    • March 15, 2014 at 4:01 pm

      Not only an innocent child has spent 5 years in jail, but this treatment would have been categorized as abuse even if he HAD been found guilty in the first place. Obviously, the idea is to make people admit to fabricated guilt, to make the lawyers and judges work less for more money. If you try fighting for your rights, they will destroy your life. Really, had this happened in any other country, CNN would have been all over the case, fabricating something about the local people and the government, the country would’ve been bombed within a week and the marines would’ve been sweeping the land and building military bases.

      More to the point – can anyone imagine any other country doing the same thing to an American child? The media would be demanding nuclear strikes. But if it’s happening in America itself, it must be just and all the media is silent. The control is absolute.

  6. March 15, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Just saw this video and wanted to share with you. How do we treat kids and are we blind to their suffering? A very simple, yet powerful story. Didn’t understand a word 🙂 but the point is all too clear. This is such an amazing eye opener.


    • 9 Gloria
      March 15, 2014 at 9:55 pm

      I have seen the video. You are right, simple yet powerful.

      This is another powerful comertial. Children see… Children do.

      Make your influence positive.

  7. April 1, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Hi there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group?

    There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content.
    Please let me know. Cheers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: