A couple days before I wrote yesterday’s post, a reader sent me this thought-provoking email:
“Was looking up (something else) on Wikipedia, and found this interesting sub thread for Penal Theory. I found it very interesting.
“‘In penal theory and the philosophy of punishment, parsimony refers specifically to taking care in the distribution of punishment in order to avoid excessive punishment. In the utilitarian approach to the philosophy of punishment, Jeremy Bentham‘s (1748 – 1832) ‘parsimony principle’ states that any punishment greater than is required to achieve its end is unjust. The concept is related but not identical to the legal concept of proportionality. Parsimony is a key consideration of the modern restorative justice, and is a component of utilitarian approaches to punishment, as well as the prison abolition movement. Bentham believed that true parsimony would require punishment to be individualised to take account of the sensibility of the individual—an individual more sensitive to punishment should be given a proportionately lesser one, since otherwise needless pain would be inflicted. Later utilitarian writers have tended to abandon this idea, in large part due to the impracticality of determining each alleged criminal’s relative sensitivity to specific punishments.’
“So, if we follow Bentham’s ‘parsimony principle’ which states that ‘any punishment greater than is required to achieve its end is unjust’, then for most true parricides (at least those who killed an abusive family member), who we know aren’t really a danger to anyone but their abuser, only minimal incarceration and counseling are really appropriate, and certainly not LWOP. So then what about ‘Bentham believed that true parsimony would require punishment to be individualized to take account of the sensibility of the individual—an individual more sensitive to punishment should be given a proportionately lesser one, since otherwise needless pain would be inflicted.’?
“Let’s face it, some kids and adults, especially the aforementioned parricides, are much more receptive to appropriate punishment than others, which has always been my problem with mixing criminals by offense committed v. personality/motive.
“What then was the purpose of IDOC’s ‘reception center’, since the judge ordered Lundy and Gingerich to WVCF instead of allowing the reception center to test and do its job?”
In the light of Wednesday’s proceedings at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, it seems to me that the question should also be raised about the purpose for such courts? Rather than focusing on technicalities to the exclusion of all else, shouldn’t our “supreme” courts be open to more substantive but philosophical questions of law?
So often—too often, really—outrageous offenses against what any fair person would say is “fair” are allowed to stand because high courts allow their vision to become so narrowed by esoteric points of law that the question of “justice” never comes up.
Shouldn’t our higher courts be considering things within a wider view than lower courts? There has to be a place where the system can stand back, take a breath, and ask whether higher standards of justice are being met.
In the present climate of political strife, this perspective cannot be achieved in the Congress and our legislatures. Justice is supposed to be guaranteed by the court system, but obviously it is not.
Groove of the Day