Letter: Let justice be the sole yardstick for punishment

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The Independent Online
Sir: Surely your headline 'Prison in our society: does it really work?' (16 October) is highly misleading. It reinforces a mistaken belief that the primary reason for a prison sentence is to reform the criminal or deter others. Instead, the function of the legal system is to uphold justice. This is a moral task. In this context the only questions worth asking are: is the person guilty? If so, is a prison sentence the appropriate sentence or punishment to expiate the guilt?

To suggest that one might 'punish' one person to deter others without the punishment being first and foremost deserved in its own right, is simply immoral. Furthermore, to 'punish' a person simply to change his behaviour smacks of a manipulative and behaviourist approach, which is less than moral.

One must not submit justice to the calculative mentality which asks whether prison is cost-effective. Only when justice has been upheld and an appropriate punishment meted out can one raise the subsidiary questions of what else we must do to enhance the well-being of the prisoner and of society.

By focusing on justice, one may of course conclude in many cases that imprisonment is not the best nor the only appropriate form of punishment.

Yours sincerely,

M. C. FELDERHOF

Bournville,

Birmingham

17 October

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