Punishment v. Justice


Main Entry: pun·ish·ment
Pronunciation: \ˈpə-nish-mənt\
Function: noun
Date: 15th century

1 : the act of punishing
2 a : suffering, pain, or loss that serves as retribution b : a penalty inflicted on an offender through judicial procedure
3 : severe, rough, or disastrous treatment

Main Entry: jus·tice
Pronunciation: \ˈjəs-təs\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French justise, from Latin justitia, from justus
Date: 12th century

1 a : the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments b : judge c : the administration of law; especially : the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
2 a : the quality of being just, impartial, or fair b (1) : the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal : righteousness c : the quality of conforming to law
3 : conformity to truth, fact, or reason : correctness

IN AMERICAN CULTURE punishment and justice are used as interchangeable, and almost synonymous, terms within the context of the criminal “justice” system. Yet, the two terms could not be more different.

Punishment is suffering pain or loss that serves as retribution for some transgression perpetrated by the individual being punished. Where justice is the conformity to truth, fact or reason, or administering the appropriate punishment or reward. The distinct definitions of these two words clearly show that they are not meant to be synonymous. Justice is the horse that is used to drive the cart carrying punishment. Put simply, justice should dictate the punishment dolled out by the American criminal justice system, although it rarely works that way.

The American criminal “justice” system seems to have lost the dichotomy that is punishment and justice. The two words have merged in the politically minded District Attorneys who care more about a headline than they do about doing right and dispensing just sentences. The maximum sentence is not always a just sentence; which is a concept that is severely lacking in today’s criminal “justice” system.

I can only speak from personal experience, from the jurisdiction that I practice in, but it has been my experience that the district attorneys care less about justice than they do about punishment. To the District Attorney’s Office it is a numbers game, how many years in prison can I hand out this year? How many people can I put in prison? These are the principals that drive the very people that our society charges with dispensing justice.

I ask You, is this the type of system that you want to be a part of? A system that has become a game of numbers instead of Justice?

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