“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ~Nelson Mandela
In the interest of the maintenance of law and order, civil society creates appropriate mechanisms by which it holds those who violate the strictures of the social order accountable. Our courts along with the prison system are a vital part of this process. Persons found guilty of breaking the law often find themselves at the mercy of the Court and it’s various agents. Our guiding principle at judgement is that “the punishment should fit the crime”. In his inauguration speech President George W Bush stated that: ‘A civil society demands from each of us goodwill and respect, fair dealing and forgiveness.’ This is a standard worthy of our remembrance as we reflect on our perceptions of those who find themselves at the mercy of our courts, since our collective perceptions are operational in our eventual treatment of them.
Incarceration is a necessary part of the Justice system. Our society, through its courts, sometimes finds it absolutely necessary to imprison people…some for the rest of their lives. Because of the absolutely critical consequences of sentencing people to serve time in prison, we have a serious responsibility to make sure that our court system functions justly. Avoiding cruel and unusual punishment is a sacred duty that we must be vigilant in upholding. While we set out to appropriately punish offenders for their crimes, we have a responsibility to make sure that we make every effort to rehabilitate those who can be rehabilitated. Most important of all, we have a responsibility to put in place every safeguard against unjust imprisonment. This is a most crucial responsibility as we set out to guarantee the freedom that is idealized in our most celebrated creed.