Public policy matters little to a family who loses a sister to murder or comforts a daughter after rape. The state cannot provide comfort for a bungled prosecution, a “soft-on-crime” judge, a legislature that restores a criminal’s rights, or a governor who grants a pardon. But punishment designed for the comfort of the victim turns justice into revenge, and it is not the purpose of the state to exact vengeance.
Mississippi’s hodgepodge theories of justice complicate consistent arguments on punishment. The “Department of Corrections” seems to make the purpose of justice to help the criminal. This vestige of a rehabilitative theory of justice fails because we hold some prisoners who have been “corrected” while releasing others who are not rehabilitated. That is to be expected under our law code which generally reflects a retributive theory of justice: the punishment should fit the crime. Under this theory if a criminal does “X” he should be sentenced to “Y.” But not always: repeat offenders get a different punishment, not because of what they did but because of what they have done in the past. Punishment is increased because their pattern of behavior suggests they might commit a crime again in the future. This increased punishment based on a fear of a crime not yet committed follows a utilitarian theory of justice which uses punishment to protect society through incarceration.