Saturday, November 12, 2011

What is justice?

In my last post about foreclosure fraud I pointed out the choice DOJ had in either prosecuting a criminal case - which would result in sending people to jail, or negotiating a settlement to repay the victims. For me this brings up an important question we need to grapple with much more frequently on what we mean by "justice."

Most of us in this country are thoroughly steeped in what is called retributive justice.

...a theory of justice that considers that punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, with an eye to the satisfaction and psychological benefits it can bestow to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society.

Notice that the focus is all on punishment as the appropriate response. The only question then is its proportionality to the crime. The victim in this situation simply receives the "psychological benefit" of knowing the criminal will be punished. This tends to blur the lines between justice and revenge. Gandhi warned us about this kind of justice when he said, "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

As an alternative, many people around this country as well as in other parts of the world prefer to talk about restorative justice. an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of victims, offenders, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, "to repair the harm they've done—by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service"...It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offense against an individual or community rather than the state.

Notice how in this concept of justice, the needs of the victim (be it an individual or the community) is brought into focus in a more tangible way. And rather than punishment, the goal is to "repair the harm" caused by the crime.

Through this kind of lens, we can see the difference between those who continue to demand a "perp walk" for the Wall Street folks vs those who are interested in settlements to compensate the victims/community. It is only our limited thinking (dabbled with just a bit of a need for revenge) that insists on the former as the only means by which to accomplish real justice.

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