Skip to content

Revenge and Justice

by Nicholas Barnard on December 1st, 2013

Here is an entry that has been sitting in my drafts folder for a while. I wrote it back around April 21st of this year..

One of the organizations of which I’m a member ran into a situation that has brought me back to thinking about several situations I’ve been in, specifically:

I have also been linking this all to what I’ve learned in Unitarian Universalist’s Common Read: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

I had been mulling all of this in my head for a few weeks, then the bombing attack during the Boston Marathon happen and its aftermath unfolded. During all of this it has become clear to me that justice and revenge often are conflated in our society.

I have long held the opinion that we should not have the death penalty anywhere, including in this country. This belief came not from a moral analysis, but from an economic one, the extra financial costs imposed by the process to execute a criminal are far outweighed by placing them in jail for the remainder of their life. This avoids the real questions such as:

  • How should we protect society from those who have committed crimes others in society?
  • Should we try to correct the criminals in custody so that they do not commit crimes again once they are released back into society?
  • Do we want revenge against criminals or do we want justice?

That question of revenge versus justice is the one I find most salient at the moment.

Part of me very much wants to inflict pain upon D; I’ve considered taking a baseball bat to the head of Matt Keyes, my former coworker above; I understand the urge of many in the media to execute on sight or deny the suspected bombers their legal rights. I hold that these urges are for revenge not for justice.

Achieving true justice is a difficult thing, because justice in relation to crimes is ameliorating the wrongs committed against the victim and against society. I personally could achieve half of true justice applied toward D as I am the victim in our interaction, a judge could represent the will of society as expressed through the laws passed through our representatives. There is a reason that in some traditions of justice once someone was found guilty their punishment was determined not by the court, but by their victim or their victim’s representative.

Carrying out justice on a victim to victimizer level is unworkable at a large scale, and ultimately will result in different punishments for the same crime.

I would not venture to develop a system that delivers justice for any imaginable crime. I do know that a system involves:

  • A process designed to mitigate any the urge for revenge.
  • A strong and vigorous effort to attempt to prove the innocence of the accused, so to ensure that their guilt is firmly established. A strong defense raises quality of justice by driving out doubts.
  • A process that weights the costs to society of carrying out the punishment against the wrong committed by the punished.

As broken as our current system is at times, it has many parts that work and protections that are vitally important for achieving as close to true justice as possible.

From → Uncategorized