Different Concepts Of Justice Around The World

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Different concepts of justice and how they relate to prison systems across the world can be quite polarizing. People’s beliefs, values, and personal experiences often play a role in the specific theory that each individual relates to the most or thinks would be the most beneficial for the betterment of society. Concepts of punishment and consequences compared to rehabilitation and understanding can be seen at opposite ends of the spectrum but at the same time have similarities.

Taking into account social situations and economic factors plays a major role in the definition of justice and the role of incarceration in the United States and across the world. The “just deserts theory“ as proposed by Mary Bosworth suggests that punishment plays a key role in justice. The idea that punishment should be proportionate and equivalent to the seriousness of the crime committed is the main concept of this theory. This is thought to teach consequences and deter people from committing crimes through having set consequences in place. This would “Reduce the possibility of discriminatory treatment on the grounds of race, social class, gender, age, or any other structural or social division,”(Bosworth 504)

This theory that became popular in the mid-1970s set in place standards of punishment that directly relate to crimes committed. This eliminates any bias from the judicial system and sets limits on the extent and type of punishment they can be placed upon an offender. This theory focuses widely on the crime committed rather than the personal aspect of the criminal who is accused of the crime. On paper this sounds like an adequate solution to injustice, however, there are several situations in which this theory does not adequately support the community.

Rehabilitation can play an important role in the betterment of society and this theory does not take into consideration how going the extra mile to rehabilitate an offender can, in the long run, improve society as a whole and prevent future crimes from being committed and innocent people from becoming victims. The “just deserts” theory takes into consideration the crime committed but less on the person who committed the crime.

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The “distributive paradigm theory defines social justice as the morally proper distribution of social benefits and burdens among society’s members”(Young 16), This means that someone’s upbringing and background plays a larger role in the consideration of their crime and the punishment or sentencing placed upon them. It takes into consideration social issues such as the distribution of material goods and readily available resources that may influence one’s outlook on life. Not only material goods but social constraints that may be placed upon people of oppression by those privileged and how that affects them. It takes a deeper look into a case of the criminal as opposed to the cause of the crime.

Restorative justice seems to be the most in line with the justice practices of the Norway prison system. “Harmed people harm people”(Davis 0:16) stuck out as a major point of restorative justice. This theory takes into consideration more than just a crime or the person committing it but how it affects our society as a whole. It converts questions such as, “What law was broken?” “Who broke that law?” and “What will the punishment be for the crime?” into, “Who was harmed by the crime?” What are the needs and responsibilities of those people affected?” And, “How can they come together as both the offender and the victim to heal the harm that was committed?”.

Community outreach rehabilitation plays a key role in this theory by helping to give a sense of purpose to an offender and helping to put things right. Instead of receiving a prison sentence, one might be given community service to help them better understand how what they did was wrong and prevent them from reoffending. This puts a stop to or prevents a cycle of reoffending from continuing or starting.

When taking all of these theories into consideration, I think it’s important to remember that certain countries and governing bodies have been dealing with justice in very different ways for a very long time. It would be close to impossible to apply “just deserts” theory to the Norwegian judicial system overnight and vice versa for the restorative justice theory to the U.S.

With that being said I think that all theories have valid points and highlight shortcomings in both systems. I think it would be beneficial to focus on white collar crimes and criminals who were not disproportionately affected by unfair societal and socioeconomic oppression. It would be interesting to see how rehabilitation would play a role in treating those criminals that may consider their crimes “victimless” and how said rehabilitation would apply to the theories proposed.

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