Lightly Musing on Compensatory Justice

Compensation is, I believe, a humane and civic goal to set for punishment in the criminal law.

When a convicted criminal is made to render some service to his victims, his community and society as a whole in repayment for the harm of his crime, no one loses. (Well, no one except those who experience deep and passionate feelings of revenge.) Society receives a service, victims are in some way directly compensated for their losses, the community is at least superficially stitched back together (in a sort of “now you kids play nicely” kind of way), and the criminal offender has the opportunity the experience what it feels like to help others rather than himself. It’s an overly-rosy picture, of course, and it would be the simplest thing in the world to destroy it by pointing out what an awkward, ineffective pain in the ass compensatory justice can be on individual and community levels, but this is my blog and if you don’t like it that bloody leave a comment.

There is a darker side – or at least a more questionable side – to this compensation-through-service theory. Let’s call it prison labor, a frightening and nasty-sounding name for something that really is quite frightening and nasty.

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