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Prison Reform: Justice vs. Revenge

  • It’s nearly impossible to claim that the current system, where inmates languish in long-term punishment centers and return to a world they’re even less prepared for than when they entered, is fair. And inmates know it.
  • Part 1: Justice v. Revenge: The Question Beneath the Question of Prison Reform 
  • Part 2: Virtue Ethics: Justice vs. Revenge

Compiled by David Culver, Ed., Evergreene Digest



Part 1: Justice v. Revenge: The Question Beneath the Question of Prison Reform

  • This article is part of It’s Your Fault, The Cubit’s series on blame in contemporary society. In her contribution to the series, journalist Xarissa Holdaway examines the American prison system and the fragile relationships among rehabilitation, containment, and revenge.
  • For more on blame, read the introductory post or explore the full series

Xarissa Holdaway, Religion Digest

shutterstock_1594674-690x460.jpg July 23, 2015 When Louis Dwight died in 1853, the Boston Courier lamented, “we know not who can succeed him; but it is to be hoped that some individual of like spirit and capabilities may be found to take his place.” Dwight was a prominent advocate of prison reform and the founder of the Boston Prison Discipline Society. The Courier obituary did not mince words about the importance of Dwight’s organization: “it would be a very serious evil,” they wrote, “for the society to suspend its operations.”

Dwight was part of a generation of reformers that advocated for more humane conditions in American prisons. Believing that discipline, religion, and encouragement—not punishment—were the keys to successfully returning inmates to society, Dwight spent his career encouraging prisons to adopt regulations that allowed prisoners to attend Sunday schools and spend time out of their cells. Dwight, along with reformers like Dorothea Dix, was responding to nightmarish prison conditions: jails that functioned as warehouses for the mentally ill, widespread imprisonment for debt, and inmates kept in solitary confinement for years at a time or in filthy, unheated, and vermin-ridden cells.

Xarissa Holdaway is a writer living in New York City and the deputy editor for digital at Charlie Rose.

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Part 2: Virtue Ethics: Justice vs. Revenge

When we fail to recognize the danger of this desire to harm, we also fail to recognize the society we create when we promote harm or what sort of people we create when we ask them to torture or kill.

Secular Ethics

2014/02/143232-144579.jpg?itok=3Cv3Iia8February 10, 2012 | What is the difference between justice and revenge?

We can certainly point out that justice concerns the proper punishment for bad behavior while revenge can be any kind of punishment for any perceived slight.  If that’s the only difference, however, then it seems that justice is merely a type of revenge.

I propose a further difference, which concerns virtue ethics:  true justice is motivated by the desire to establish a better society; revenge is motivated by the desire to harm.  That is, of course, if we actually wish to make justice a noble pursuit instead of an expression of barbarism that conveniently has some social benefit.

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