Editorial: Justice and Punishment

1 min read

By Eva Forslund

In the process of creating this issue, we asked a number of UF members what justice means to them. Their answers varied somewhat, but they all seemed to agree that defining the term ‘justice’ is difficult. On the other hand, the writers in this issue keep returning to how unsuccesful we are, as a society and as individuals, at achieving justice.

One reoccurring subject is that of colonialism, and how it still very much remains: as homophobic British laws persist in India, and as the Swedish government (and many others with it) mistreats its indigenous people. After hundreds of years of colonialism, we have still not succeeded in eradicating it.

Other articles concern Donald Trump and his controversial acts. It is clear that many Uttryck writers consider the leader of the free world to be failing at securing justice.

The fact that achieving justice is difficult should not come as a surprise, however, given that ‘justice’ itself is hard to define. Reaching a goal which we do not have a common understanding of is obviously difficult.

Yet people are often sure of how to deal with justice within their own societies. In particular, we seem sure of how to treat our criminals; they are to be punished. Is this really just? A commonly used argument for punishing those who have committed crimes, and for having a criminal justice system in the first place, is to deter others from breaking the law. But in doing so, we are not respecting individuals as ends in and of themselves, but rather as tools in order to engineer a more just society. This should be alarming, since most of us agree that each human has their own intrinsic value, and should not be used as a means to achieve a greater good. This goes for everyone, even criminals.

Many criminal justice systems also cause plenty of harm; the US, for example, holds 20 percent of the world’s prisoners but only five percent of the world’s total population. It seems unlikely that Americans are more criminally inclined than others. Instead it is more plausible that the American criminal justice system is too freely dealing out sentences and punishments.

Despite this, it is hard to generate support for issues such as rethinking our punishment philosophy, since most of us hope to never encounter the criminal justice system. There are too many instances like these, where a minority of a society’s people is harmed very badly, but the majority are unaffected. These are issues where justice is most needed.

The fact that justice is not clearly defined, and probably never will be, does not mean that we should give up fighting for it. And just because we often fail to achieve it, we should not stop trying. For me, this means that we need to reconsider our approach to crime and punishment. We hope this issue inspires you to find out what justice means to you.

By Eva Forslund

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