A Matter of Injustice

There is this sense that if justice is getting what one deserves, then a punishment ought to fit the crime. On a podcast I listened to recently, the host told the story of a judge in North or South Carolina who sentenced three men in a brutal rape case to either twenty years in prison or voluntary castration. While his sentence was decried as inhumane cruelty and the sentence was changed to just twenty years in prison after an appeal, there is a certain fittingness to it, at least in my eyes.

The man who carries out sexual abuse gives up something of his sexuality. The thief who steals with his hand is relieved of it. The one whose tongue runs with slander or lies likewise silences the offending member. As if we can make some kind of amends by removing from our bodies those parts of it which are crucial to the sins that we commit.

And yet underlying it all is this realization that however much we may deprive the physical, we have made no inroads on the mental or spiritual, and it is there that the action originates. But how can we punish the soul? For those with some feeling, I suppose one might torture their family members to impress upon them the pain that their own crimes have given. Or we could, as we do, cut them off from all social contact by placing them in isolation chambers with no comforting umbilical cord of human speech to tie them to the outside world.

As usual, that wasn't quite what I meant to speak of, although it gets there eventually. At some point, we realize that systematic criminal justice fails because the crime typically involves an *injustice* toward the victim, and so justice becomes a contradiction in terms, for we deliver to the criminal what is deserved and yet what is deserved is what is undeserved. The punishment can never satisfy the crime.

I only think of this because I feel at times as though I had stuck my fingers into the heart of Pennsylvania and ripped its heart out, and now, from some grieved impulse to make amends, I read its biography, or more intimate still, its letters and diaries. But these do not bring it back to life. It would require something else to do that, and I'm not sure whither the solution lies.

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