Rehabilitation is the goal of reforming the criminal so that he can be reintegrated into society as a well-behaved, productive citizen.
Several recent studies have shown that execution is almost completely unsuccessful as a method of rehabilitating the offender. However, given permanent residence in isolation within a prison, LIPWPP isn’t really rehabilitative either. Thus, both alternatives are equal again on this value, at least in the sense of preparing a criminal for re-entry into general society.
However, if one means by rehabilitation the service done to the criminal himself of helping him have a profitable and meaningful life while incarcerated, things are not so clear. On the one hand, it is possible that a murderer would repent and dedicate himself to self-improvement. On the other hand, it is possible that a murderer would go on hating and descend into a spiral of self-destructive seething. Since quantifying these probabilities exceeds my abilities, I’ll optimistically estimate that the net chance of self-development benefits obtained during LIPWPP is offset by the equally small advantage in incapacitation certainty obtained through execution. So, rehabilitation and incapacitation taken together become moot issues.
Retribution is the goal of restoring the scales of moral justice to balance as possible.
For instance, when someone thieves, the objective is to restore the victim to his condition prior to the loss. This requires restitution equal to the theft plus a penalty to cover the lost use of that money and the intangible damage to his confidence and security. Civil law is the easiest illustration for understanding retribution. We quantify all sorts of things in civil courts for the sake of saying what the offender owes, and the idea is to restore balance by taking from the criminal and repaying the victim.
But there are always two victims of every crime: the particular person and the moral fabric of the society itself. For every infraction against this fabric, we assess varying degrees of penance including jail time, community service, and fines. These all have their own merits, but the retributive purpose is to make the criminal pay enough to restore balance to the moral universe just as he must to the victim. Not only is this about compensating those who have lost, but it is about forcing the offender to pay his debt to society so that he may satisfy the demands of just retribution. Once paid, we are no longer owed, and he no longer owes.
What, then, is the proper retribution for murder? As death penalty opponents are so fond of saying, “Executing the murderer will not bring his victim back to life.” That, of course, is true. It’s just as true, however, that giving him LIPWTPP will also fail to accomplish a resurrection. And that’s the point. There is simply nothing the murderer can do to truly restore the social fabric to the status quo ante for the obvious reason that there is no way to replace missing people. Nonetheless, as history and the Bible so clearly have held, blood alone can atone for shed blood. By requiring his life of him, we make him pay the only correct price and force him to fully pay it. This balances both the moral fabric as well as the murderer’s personal register.
Once we comprehend this distinction between murder and all other crimes (which can be restituted for), it should be clear that retribution not only justifies execution, it requires it. Execution is the only correct penalty-in-kind for murder, and retribution is the only value so far analyzed which justifies taking this most precious of payments from someone.
In my next column, I will consider the issues of deterrence and symbolism before moving on to discuss the other issues in this complex and often difficult issue.