An Eye for an Eye, the Joint for a Joint?

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2015-05-10 – Sometime during the last year or so, conservatives and liberals woke up to the fact that the United States has altogether too many people in prison. Conservatives regard this as an unjustifiable redistribution of wealth to the prison population (just kidding). Liberals feel angst and guilt, seeing that they went along with draconian laws that fall disproportionately on people of color in order to prove that they were tough on crime (meaning that they were disproportionately tough on people of color).

Much has been said about how the US record of incarceration puts us in a league with China and Iran. No one has compared us to the biblical system of justice, however, because “eye for an eye.”

The thought is gross, so we think of the biblical injunction of eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth as brutal and inhumane. But if you think about it, the biblical rule is a rule of proportionality. (And the Talmud tells us that ancient people did not regard this rule as mandating corporal punishment at all, but rather monetary compensation.)

Locking people up and essentially taking away their lives for thefts or mayhem are neither biblical nor proportional. We’ve grown up thinking that the Bible was tough on crime. But compared to us, the Bible is soft.

And the Bible contains no drug laws. There is nothing in the holy writ that commands the joint for a joint. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. And what could be a proportional punishment for something that isn’t even seen as a crime?

Without a recognized crime committed, the Bible would probably regard our prison system as a kind of slavery. And while the Bible allowed slavery, it did have rules to govern the institution. It limited the ways a person could become a slave. It limited the time a person could be held as a slave. It limited the treatment of slaves. Every one of these is violated in the American prison system.

So we are tougher than China, we are tougher than Iran, and we are tougher than the Bible. Where has it gotten us?

 

#prisonindustrialcomplex #drugpolicyreform #BlackLivesMatter

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