Self-Determinism Vs Retribution

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One of our strongest sources of pride as American citizens is the fact that America is a land of opportunity; that one can pull himself up by his bootstraps and make something great of himself; that each individual has power over his own destiny. This represents the American belief system of self-determinism. With it comes a responsibility. Each person is also to be held accountable for his own actions, both good and bad. This represents the American value of retribution, or justice. In addition to self-determinism and retribution, there are the values of fairness and humanitarianism. Often times, the two go hand-in-hand in the American justice system. However, they are sometimes at odds with each other; when men commit crimes due to circumstance, …show more content…
It makes enough sense; after all, if a child draws on the walls, it seems appropriate to make the child clean up the mess. Similarly, shoplifting will incur a fine. Such retribution can be taken quite far. While the Constitution protects citizens against “cruel and unusual punishment,” there is a strong belief in being “tough on crime,” which, as stated earlier, is rooted in Judaeo-Christian morals. Our criminal justice system confirms these roots with antiquated laws for enforcing old moral codes. For instance, consensual gay sex was still illegal in several states until 2003 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the statutes unconstitutional in the case of Lawrence V. Texas. Some citizens still believe that severe penalties serve our society well. During the 1980s and 1990s, a series of laws were passed to create minimum sentences for certain offenses and to increase sentences for repeat offenders. The war on crime, the war on drugs and the three strikes laws were backed by politicians who were trying to appeal this group of …show more content…
Ultimately, the goal of the justice system is to reduce crime and protect citizens. This can be accomplished either by removing criminals from society or changing their behavior to prevent future crimes. Those who value retribution may argue for the former, in which case we will continue to have high prison populations. Rehabilitation, on the other hand, could be a useful tool in the American justice system. Sociologists (in a concept known as the sociological imagination) understand that an individual’s circumstance strongly influences their behavior (Wiley, Jeanette). Psychologists have proven both that conditioning is a strong method by which to change behavior, and that reinforcement is more effective than punishment ("Changing Behavior Through Reinforcement and Punishment”).
As it stands, the meaning of justice is practically synonymous with retribution. Upon the conviction of a criminal, one might say that justice has been served. The American principle of retribution, along with the groups who believe in it, are at odds with those who value humanitarianism. Yet many issues that have arisen as a result of the emphasis on Judeo-Christian morals are in need of solutions from the perspective of

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