Friday, February 17, 2006

Justice: Absolute Restitution

One problem I think we have with our justice system is that people don't really think much about justice, as a concept. For most people, the government does what it does, and that's that. For those who actually encounter our justice system, it's more about vengeance, the desire to hurt the person they perceive as having hurt them. For some, it's about locking away people they feel threatened by. For others, it's about "rehabilitation."

I believe that justice, ultimately, is about restoring a balance that is disrupted by crimes of various kinds, committed by one against another. So far as it is possible, justice should be aimed at requiring the perpetrator to restore their victim to their original state. In situations in which this is not possible, it's about causing the same harm to the perpetrator, so that the victim can feel that, even if the situation is far from perfect, the criminal has been justly punished.

You'll notice that this definition explicitly excludes victimless crimes. I do not believe there should be any such thing defined by the state. The justice of the state should be purely a matter of mediation between individuals; the only crimes that should be prosecuted by the state are matters of treason, and possibly destruction of public property.

I think that our justice system would work better if all justice were thought of in terms of restitution. When one commits a crime against another, count that as a debt incurred. In the event that the debt cannot be paid, we could imprison them, but I doubt that would solve much. A lengthy period of indentured servitude would serve all of the purposes listed above. It would be a form of imprisonment, which would satisfy those that demand imprisonment. However, it would also put them to work, which would provide value to the party harmed by the crime. During that time, they would learn work skills, which would serve the purpose of rehabilitation. And because it would be individuals who profit from their labor who would be responsible for the servant, it would reduce our prison budget to almost nothing, allowing for lower taxes, allowing for higher employment, which would help reduce crime overall.

I prefer a period of seven years. On top of being the length of time specified in the Law of Moses (which would make it politically viable for Judeo-Christian fundamentalists), it would probably also be sufficient time to train a particularly bright servant in a high-value skill, while allowing time for the trainer to make a profit on the investment. Such a servant, once freed, would be unlikely to return to a life of crime.

Note that these servants would be transferable. The victim of a crime wouldn't find himself saddled with a person he really doesn't want around. He would, however, have the option to sell the perpetrator's servitude to another person or entity, possibly a business that makes its money getting the most out of such persons. The likely mode of operation would be to train them in the most economically valuable skill they can be trusted with, and collect the money until their term ends. The newly freed person would now have a valuable skill to live on.

In some cases, restoration is possible. In the case of theft, require the robber to pay back twice as much as he stole. In the case of vandalism, require the vandal to repair the damage, and pay again the expenses. Do the same for arson. For injury, the rule would be "an eye for an eye," though if the victim chose the eye, they would not have the opportunity to sue for medical expenses. They can either get the eye, or twice the expenses, but not both.

In the case of murder, the perpetrator would owe the victim's next of kin their life; the victim's family would literally have the right to kill the murderer.

For more dispersed wrongs, dispersed entities could be created to defend that particular resource. For example, groundwater pollution could be prosecuted by he who owned the groundwater, ie. a corporation owned by the people in a given area, managed by a board of directors elected by the shareholders.

The key element to note here is that at no point does the State become the plaintiff; it provides the judge and enforcement, but nothing more. Thus, if the victim decides that, for whatever reason, he wishes to forgive the perpetrator, or accept a lighter sentence, he would have the authority to do so. The state would not have the ability to continue a prosecution that could be settled more easily out of court. The victim would be firmly in the driver's seat, and while the law would define what they are entitled to, they would be free to accept other terms, assuming the perpetrator agreed.

Much fewer prisons, rehabilitation, strict enforcement, and an absolute concern for victim's rights. What more can you ask for?

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