Saints and Sinners

This train carries saints and sinners
This train carries losers and winners
This train carries whores and gamblers
This train carries lost souls 
This train carries broken hearted
This train, thieves and sweet souls departed
This train carries fools and kings
This train, all aboard
Bruce Springsteen, “Land of Hope and Dreams”

If you asked people when they are in a normal and clear-thinking state, whether they want to commit crimes and victimize others, the overwhelming response would be “of course not, what a dumb question.” Yet, the bad deeds and damage never end.

As much as we mere mortals may aspire to the heights of the seven cardinal virtues of chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, gratitude, and humility, we are often drawn down to the seven deadly sins of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride.

These sins permeate through the criminal justice system. Lust leading to sex crimes, gluttony behind alcohol and drug-fuelled offences, greed and envy at the root of theft and property-related transgressions, wrath causing the violence of assaults and murders, pride underlying the pursuit of power and much of the political and corporate corruption that ensues. And sloth, the evil of failing to act morally and turning a blind eye to the serious misdeeds of others due to laziness or apathy.

When someone is found guilty of a criminal offence, the Judge then has the difficult task of sentencing that person, trying to make the punishment fit the crime. What kind of offence was it? What is the previous background of the offender? What damage did it cause the victim?

Some of the principles and factors that our judges consider and try to balance are:

• Deterrence – the sentence should be meaningful enough to deter this specific offender from committing a crime again and/or should send a message to the general public that this type of offence warrants a significant penalty. “Sinners will be punished.”

• Denunciation – the sentence should send a message to the offender from the community denouncing their actions as unacceptable, expressing the public indignation and condemnation towards the crime. “Shame on you.”

• Rehabilitation – the sentence should consider and understand the background and situation of the offender and aim to rehabilitate that person through counselling and other means to make them better members of society. “Use our tomorrows to correct the wrongs of yesterday. On the road from sinner to saint.”

• Retribution – the sentence should be related to the damage the offender caused. “An eye for an eye.”

• Restitution and restoration – the sentence should aim to compensate and restore the victim as much as possible by having the offender pay for damages, provide a letter of apology, attend mediation together, etc. “Let me try to make it up to you.”

• Separation from society – the sentence should consider whether the offender must be separated from society to protect the victim and/or keep the public safe. “You’ve left me with no other choice, you’re going to jail, mister.”

It’s not a perfect system and far from a perfect world. So it would be impossible for judges always to get it right.

However, we continue to try and hope that offenders and victims will find strength to improve and get better, to hear this voice, either from deep within or
somewhere beyond:

I will provide for you
And I’ll stand by your side
You’ll need a good companion now
For this part of the ride
Leave behind your sorrows
Let this day be the last
Tomorrow there’ll be sunshine
And all this darkness past