"The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead
"The quality of a criminal justice system is an important measure of the value of a political community. Apart from waging war, no decision made by the state is more significant than its judgment about what conduct should be proscribed and how severely to punish it." - Douglas Husak, Overcriminalisation: The Limits of the Criminal Law
The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of crime and criminals is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country.
A calm, dispassionate recognition of the right of the accused, and even of the convicted criminal - a constant heart-searching by all charged with the duty of punishment - a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry those who have paid their due in the hard coinage of punishment: tireless efforts towards the discovery of curative and regenerative processes: unfailing faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man.
These are the symbols which, in the treatment of crime and criminal, mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation and sign and proof of the living virtue in it.
- Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons (1910)
Balancing the rights of the accused, the dignity of all individuals, a respect for the rule of law, and civil order has always been difficult, but in the hundred years since Churchill spoke those words, it is clear to me that America has drifted a bit too far down the "tough on crime" road. The Innocence Project would not be in such demand if juries (in representing and reflecting the nature of our society) were not so quick to replace the standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt" with "probably did something worth going to jail (or dying) for." Another example are the numerous variations of "three strikes and life" legislation that slams the door shut on rehabilitating and nurturing the heart of so many.