Loose thoughts: should justice be focussed on punishment?


I was thinking about what the idea ‘justice’ means lately, and more and more I’m really wondering why for our culture punishing the perpetrator is looked upon as much more important than compensating the victim as much as possible, which imho should be the main focus of justice. (along with making sure the evil guy will not repeat being evil, which isn’t the same thing as revenge.) But in some cases compensation isn’t even on the radar. This is just weird and rather counter-intuitive to me.

Revenge nor punishment will ever set anything right for the victim, and while it might  be psychologically good for the victim to have the perpetrator punished, it will not really help any of the wrong to be undone at all.

Yes, I also understand that the threat of punishment can be good to keep people from doing wrong, but that still doesn’t mean that the actual punishment is really the best of what justice has to offer…

But frankly, if we don’t focus on setting the wrongs right and undoing the evil, there will never be any progress.  We will only satisfy our low desires for revenge.

I was browsing the code of Hammurabi, (the oldest human book of law that we still have) and between all the death sentences (prison as a punishment is a rather rare modernist idea) I also see a lot of compensations for crihammurabimes.
Take for example this law (not completely preserved):

“23. If the robber is not caught, then shall he who was robbed claim under oath the amount of his loss; then shall the community, and . . . on whose ground and territory and in whose domain it was compensate him for the goods stolen. “

While good old Hammy surely has a lot of attention for punishment, he doesn’t neglect the compensation even when there is no identified criminal (of his family) that can compensate.  And isn’t it logical indeed to let the community do this instead of insurance companies out for money for shareholders, and to bring this aspect back to the focus of justice? Justice as setting right the wrongs, not punishing the evil ones?

I’m not sure where I’m going here with my thoughts on restorative justice, but it makes me wonder about atonement theories and why I don’t feel anything for certain popular versions of  them in our modernist and post-reformation Christianity. God setting things right and undoing wrong seems more foundational to me than the rather base thinking of ‘evil needs to be punished no matter what’…

so what do you think?

peace

Bram

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