Let’s say that there are two possible outcomes when sentencing a criminal. Either he receives a sentence that is not “fatal” (e.g. death penalty or some form of life in prison; actual or effective) or one that is. If he receives the more “lenient” sentence, he has the opportunity to show his rehabilitated side upon release – or he could choose to reoffend. However, the choice the incarcerated makes upon release is obviously not known until such time comes, so we have to either go for broke with sentencing, writing the individual off as lost, or anticipate possible recovery. I understand that this is a difficult decision for the courts to make.
However, the courts are not immune from the pressures of the populace. In areas of the world where judges are elected, the voting population ultimately has a direct influence on whether the judge will opt towards a hopeful sentence or a damning one. In this sense, the judge is ultimately handcuffed and the politics of the voters dictate the fate of criminals. Of course, I am excluding the proclivities of the judge, but what I wish to explore is the power of society’s will on the fate of rehabilitating criminals.
I bring all of this up because I was reading through Twitter this morning and I noticed that a collection of dear friends of mine were rejoicing in the heavy sentence handed to one engaged in the act of “revenge” pornography. They were ecstatic that the punishment arguably exceeded what the severity of the crime would dictate. I have not engaged these friends for there is an implicit agreement to keep our social media spheres disjoint, but I wonder what is going through their minds. The odds for rehabilitation in this case, I would posit, are high; the crime was specific to one individual exploiting another. What motivation would there be to reoffend? However, I believe their ecstasy is a microcosm of what society as a whole desires: punishment over rehabilitation.
Going back to the points I made in my opening paragraph, I do understand that there is a level of uncertainty that accompanies the sentencing process, however I believe it to be insane to assume that everyone who ends up in the legal system should be removed from society for as long as they typically are. I am left to conclude that society wants blood and not rehabilitation. They do not wish to protect themselves so much as they wish to inflict pain in excess of that which the criminal inflicted themselves. Our democratic systems ensure that this will not change any time soon.