Justice Requires Redemption

By · Thursday, March 19th, 2009

Justice Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court said that he thinks our country incarcerates too many people and that American prisoners serve sentences that are too long. I agree with him. Prisons have become our nation’s only response to crime.

The United States Sentencing Commission recently released reports that show how federal offender demographics change. I think we need reforms that limit our reliance on prisons. our country should use prisons as one of many tools to respond to criminal behavior, not the only tool.

Certainly, some offenders behave in ways that warrant isolation from society. Those types of offenders come from every category. Bernard Madoff, for example, was a calculating white-collar offender who made victims of thousands. He was an educated man in a position of trust, and I feel that society ought to hold him to a higher standard than an uneducated offender who served time for having committed a crime against the public order. In every case, however, I feel that society would reap more rewards from its system of justice if prisons offered people opportunities to work toward redemption. I do not believe that warehousing human beings for decades at a time serves the interests of an enlightened society. What’s the point? As a man who has served more than 21 years, I can assure readers that the feeling of punishment diminishes over time. I’ve been in prison for so long that it feels normal to me. It does not seem to serve as an effective deterrent.

Justice means more than the turning of calendar pages. In my opinion, we ought to measure justice in terms of an individual’s efforts to reconcile with society. That is the response I give to the questions I received from Ralph Villejo.

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