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From killings to violent robberies and kidnappings for ransom, crime has been surging in recent years in the East African country, stoking widespread public anger. Ugandans complain that most crimes go unsolved because police are corrupt and not interested in investigating cases involving ordinary citizens, although security officials deny this. Death is the maximum penalty in Uganda for a range of crimes including murder, treason and defilement, but executions are rare.

Last Thursday, his nephew was found lying on his back on the tarmac on an expressway near the capital, dead from gunshot wounds. His body was found near his parked vehicle, where a woman was in the back seat, also dead from gunshot wounds.

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On Aug. Yet it helps us to avoid uncritical enthusiasm for the concept of retribution. A broader canvas is filled and, in particular, its distinctive perspective builds on a theology of the state. For the political philosopher the state usually acquires the right, or duty, to impose suffering on offenders by virtue of some form of social contract. By contrast, the New Testament unambiguously accords to the state a penal role which owes its origins to the divine ordering of human affairs.

None of this is to say that all penal action by the state is legitimate — moral constraints must limit, and practical considerations influence, how and when the state exercises its unique authority. Indeed, Christians have a coherent explanation for the persistent intuition that the guilty deserve to be punished, an intuition which secular writers find hard to justify. The Old Testament counterpoint to Romans 13 is, perhaps, the role of the king as supreme judge after the monarchy is established.

The king is the personification of the state, and the ideal he was meant to fulfil was articulated in the opening words of the coronation psalm. Psalm Endow the king with your justice, 0 God, the royal son with your righteousness.


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He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. Notwithstanding the messianic overtones of this psalm, it reinforces the impression that human government when punishing should echo in some respects the qualities of divine justice. The wrath of God is never cruel or capricious but always the action of God as judge, punishment administered to maintain justice. God, while already active in judgement, often refrains from exacting due punishment now in the hope that his patience will lead us to repentance Romans Revelation Texts such as this led J.

How is this? The three main meanings ascribed to this phrase have been: in the medieval tradition. He bore our sins in his own body and broke the iron logic by which guilty sinners must face retribution at the hands of a holy God. Judgement in the New Testament is by no means always described using metaphors drawn from the courtroom. This is the fruit of tsedeq, things and people as they ought to be, the all-rightness God intends.

They are highly personal and relational terms.

Indeed, OT Israel is offered by the Bible as a paradigm or model from which ethical and practical insights may with due care and sensitivity be drawn and applied to other societies. The administration of justice emphasised community participation: alleged offenders were brought to trial by the victim, a relative or an eye-witness, rather than public prosecutors; matters were often settled at the town gate by community elders. In terms of punishment, three prominent themes which emerge are now considered.

For many offences, particularly theft and personal injury. Old Testament law required the offender to make restitution e. Exodus , 4. As between offender and victim, justice had to be restored. Notably the Hebrew for restitution shillum is derived from the same root as shalom. Restitution was so important that a thief who had nothing was to be sold to pay for his theft: he became the tied servant of the injured party for up to seven years or was, possibly, sold to a third party who would give a sum of money to the victim Exodus ; Deuteronomy The extent of capital punishment in OT Israel is sometimes regarded as problematic.

However, OT Israel resorted to capital punishment only after the stringent evidential requirements had been satisfied: two eye-witnesses were needed Deuteronomy In OT Israel, unlike Mesopotamia, no property crime ever warranted this ultimate sanction. Human life was always more precious than mere property.

Even so, OT Israel was prepared through capital punishment to carry out the permanent removal of an offender from the community. Which divides a community by creating a class of outcasts. The form of punishment conspicuous by its almost complete absence from OT Israel is imprisonment.


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Apart from this, compulsory exclusion from community life for a period was not practised, an omission which invites a critical re-examination of the role prison plays today. The New Testament practice of excommunication sheds interesting light on these themes of removal and reintegration. If punishment is to be part of a process whereby a person is restored fully to the life of the community, the community will need to demonstrate its reacceptance of the erstwhile offender. Studies suggest that a factor behind offending behaviour is an inability to grasp the impact of such behaviour on others, a lack of empathy for victims.

Hosea 5. Similarly, where God intervenes to judge individuals, an accompanying dialogue may seek to sensitise the culprit to the true character of his deed e. Our discussion prompts the conclusion that a biblical account of punishment must be anchored in an understanding of retribution which seeks to communicate moral truth by censuring wrongdoing. Punishment must be just and the fundamental aim should be not to impose suffering on offenders but to reassert the broken moral order which lies behind any defensible code of law.

Such an endeavour may on occasions allow the setting aside of strict proportionality, so providing a pale reflection of the aspect of mercy within divine justice. More than this, punishment administered justly pays heed to the importance of maintaining, or restoring, relationships in society characterised by justice, mutual respect and, wherever possible, full participation in community life.

What Does the Bible Say About Eye For An Eye?

Thus, punishment should acknowledge the place of the victim and in many cases will demand reparation by wrongdoers. The biblical perspective on punishment summarised in this chapter can provide a basic orientation in assessing policy issues in the penal system.

Naturally, applying such a perspective to a modern, largely urban society with an increasingly plural culture is a complex matter. A burgeoning criminological literature bears witness to the diversity of people, situations, factors and issues which penal policy must address. Further, punishment cannot be viewed in isolation from the distinct but related matters of judicial process, crime prevention strategies, social justice and welfare concerns. Our aim here is briefly to explore a limited selection of shortcomings in our penal system and possible ideas for constructive change. While judicial discretion can lead to inconsistency and, hence, injustice, sentencing guidelines are a more appropriate response than mandatory sentences which are sometimes advocated at the highest level e.

Meanwhile, unemployed and black people are exposed to some likelihood of more punitive sanctions than others for the same offences, indicative in many cases of a bias which has nothing to do with assessing deserts and which needs to be remedied.


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The prison population in England and Wales has risen from 39, in to 61, in May and is projected to rise further. Yet in many cases it is doubtful whether imprisonment is the most suitable punishment.

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The majority of prisoners have committed offences involving no violence and are not obviously a threat to public safety. Moral and pragmatic arguments suggest we should use prisons less. Imprisonment will remain part of the penal scene, and for some offenders is the only realistic option. Offering prisoners productive, properly paid work should be explored so that they can make payments to their victims — and their own families.

Prison is a form of temporary exile. In , 22 per cent of indictable offenders in England and Wales were imprisoned, 28 per cent given supervisory sentences e.

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Changing this would require sustained political effort, increased resources to provide adequate supervision, and ongoing research to develop and assess methods and results. So too would attempts to promote reparation see below. A few schemes typically associated with diverting young offenders from the courts already exist; many more could be developed. If justice is to be done as between victim and offender, the knotty question of victim participation in the process from arrest to sentencing needs careful examination.

Direct or indirect communication between victim and offender, as offered by mediation schemes, can help sensitise offenders to the hurt crimes cause to a fellow human being, and help victims work through their often varied reactions to an offence. Policy towards offenders has been growing more punitive since the s. Political calculation has been a factor, but so have deeper social trends. Braithwaite has argued that the ideology of individualism — and one might add features of modern economic life — has been eroding the informal sanctions which intermediate social networks can apply to anti-social behaviour.

It is tempting to baulk at the uphill task of reinvigorating those social networks, not least by harnessing community resources in responding to crime, and to resort instead to the coercive apparatus of the state. Christopher Townsend read economics at Cambridge University and now works as a solicitor, specialising in corporate tax law. Hart, Punishment and Responsibility Clarendon Press, Note, too, some accounts which see reducing crime as the basic justification of punishment are not utilitarian at all but based in human rights theory.

Murphy ed. Walker, Why Punish? Oxford University Press, , p.

Ugandan leader calls for eye-for-an-eye-style sentences after nephew murdered

Ferguson et al. I, pp. Cavadino and J. Dignan, The Penal System Sage, , 2nd edition. Policy ideas sketched here are considered more fully in J. Burnside and N. Category : Cambridge Papers.