Monday, 27 March 2017


The last day of lecture, on Thursday, witnessed a very one-sided debate on punishment and justice.  In the class we were just four of us students and the lecturer.  Everyone, except me, was for retributive justice by which they were discussing ways and means of prolonging the intensity of punishment in cases of gruesome criminal acts.  At the same time they were also trying to steer clear of not getting embroiled in human right issues.  So there was the discussion on prolonging life of criminals so that they serve longer prison terms (rather than be quickly bumped off) by means of technology.

I did my best in supporting restorative methods, by which I stated that the aim of punishment is not just to 'balance' the harm done!  Doing so would be the same as the crime already committed, but now legally sanctioned!  Therefore I suggested that there must be something that even the worst of criminals are good at.  Get them to do that for the good of the society.  This way, they get a chance (or are even forced to) make reparation for the harm done and the society too benefits.  However the harm done cannot be undone.  But the objection the class raised to this was that I was treating the person as a means to an end - ethically not justified!

After a long winding discussion which basically centred on how to intensify pain and suffering to balance the harm done, the professor stated that we need to first ask basic questions before we come to some decisions.  She said, which I firmly reiterated, that the question of what punishment is for needs to be clarified.  Unless such basic questions are clearly answered, our final decisions will always be lacking, even if they seem right.  

1 comment:

  1. This is a deadly topic. So hard to find a satisfactory solution without being emotionally imbalanced.

    Retributive justice satisfies the basic hurt and anger of the victim to a small extent but it doesn't do too much to either the criminal or the victim at the deeper level. It helps to keep society more law abiding. But punishment itself does not restore either the victim or perpetrator to either previous or better states of being. Perhaps after conviction of a crime, the victim should be allowed to decide the punishment if he wanted, whatever it may be. So if someone decided to forgive and let go, then that should be the criminal's punishment. To bear the forgiveness. Psychotic criminals would have to be confined to institutions though, for everyone's safety.

    In behaviour theory in psychology, there are concepts of punishment versus reinforcement. They are totally different in their intentions. Punishment seeks to reduce undesirable behaviour by increasing the unpleasant consequences to the undesirable behaviour. Reinforcement seeks to increase desired behaviour by employing different means. In India, mostly we churn out hardened criminals from our prisons. Other countries too. So the punishment is really not working. In contrast, check out Norway's prison philosophy.


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