August 2, 2010

Something awful happened recently that’s led me to think about crime, punishment and how the Internet affects us. This may be a little disjointed, but stick with me.

First, crime and punishment. Punishment for a crime is supposedly meant to serve a purpose. Jail time takes a criminal off the streets to prevent a repeat of the crime.

It’s supposed to serve as a deterrent for others, too. But that’s debatable.

Imprisonment is, in its highest form, is supposed to provide rehabilitation. But we don’t do that.

Sometimes, after conviction, restitution is required. A way to give the victim back what was taken from him or her.

Those are the high-minded intent of punishment.

But we Americans are mostly focused on yet another reason for punishment. Retribution.

I don’t see that we care much about rehabilitating criminals, but we do care that they are punished.

That they suffer.

We’re very big on an eye for an eye. If someone has done harm, we want them to be harmed in return.

And that’s something I just don’t get. It’s uncivilized. Nothing positive comes of it

I come to this subject in the wake of a terrible tragedy. Someone I know has accidentally been responsible for the death of a loved one. It was a terrible accident. Drinking was probably involved. And probably some bad judgment. And the person — a really fine human being — has enough visibility that there’s been extensive local media coverage.

Along with the online coverage came the ubiquitous reader comments. Of course, just because you can comment doesn’t mean you should. But everyone wants a say and they are having it.

Some of the more self-righteous commenters feel the need to assign moral blame. But beyond that, they want a jail sentence. Punishment. Retribution.

The more I read, that more horrified I became. The internet’s comment boards bring out the worst in people, I think. Any idiot with access to a computer can have a public say.

I am definitely not a fan of comment boards in cases like this.

So let’s talk about whether justice would be served for this person to go to jail.

Is there a way to bring the loved one back, to make restitution?


Will incarceration prevent this from happening again?

No. It was an accident, not intentional.

Will jail time deter others?

No. But the news coverage and being aware that this can happen might.

Is rehabilitation possible in jail?

If alcohol was involved, maybe. If the person actually has a drinking problem (which is debatable, the entire group was partying) rehab could happen at home so children can be cared for by a parent.

But some people don’t want any of those high-minded outcomes. What some people want is retribution. They want this person to suffer because the moral blame is clear.

But: In this particular case, what possible punishment could be worse than the hell this person is going through and will go through forever?


How many of us have partied a bit too much and taken chances we shouldn’t have?

It’s the luck of the draw, I think, that most of us don’t pay for our stupidity.

But this person paid and worse, his loved one paid with life.

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