Since the time of ancient civilizations, criminal laws have been distinctive for the grave consequences a member of a society or culture would face if he or she violated a law. With the exception of most monarchies, military dictatorships, and communist controlled countries, every crime in a society is composed of elements that must be proven by some level of evidence to find a person guilty. Over the centuries, when a person has been found guilty, humans have created five objectives, or “pillars” for dispensing justice that are still widely accepted today.

1. RETRIBUTION– This pillar is aimed at satisfying the thirst for revenge, anger, and hate. The idea is that the offender ought to suffer in some way for his crime. I think of this pillar as seeking “an eye for an eye” when a victim has been harmed by the offender.

Put another way, if an offender has taken improper advantage, or inflicted pain upon others, then the criminal law will put the offender at some unpleasant disadvantage to “balance the scales of justice.” People submit to the law to receive the right not to be imprisoned or executed. If people break these laws, they surrender the rights granted to them by the law. Therefore, according to this pillar, a murderer should be executed for taking the life of another.

2. DETERRENCE– The objective of deterrence has two parts. Individual deterrence is aimed toward the specific offender. The goal is to impose a sufficient penalty to discourage the offender from criminal behavior. An example would be for a judge to sentence a repeat DUI offender to a few weeks in jail with the hope that he or she will not offend again.

General deterrence is aimed at society. By imposing a penalty on those who commit offenses, other individuals are discouraged from committing those offenses. The Romans used crucifixion for this purpose. When onlookers saw a criminal placed on a cross, they would think twice about offending the Roman authorities in their province.

3. INCAPACITATION– This is the simplest of the five pillars. Incapacitation is designed to keep criminals away from society so that the public is protected from their dangerous behavior. This is often achieved through lengthy prison sentences. However, the death penalty and banishment provisions in a sentence can serve the same purpose.

4. REHABILITATION – Rehabilitation is one of the newer aims in the criminal justice system. This is particularly true in the state of Georgia. This approach tries to transform an offender into a valuable member of society. Its primary goal is to prevent further crimes by treating the underlying issues that may be causing the criminal behavior. The best example is the rehabilitation of drug offenders. Many people commit crimes because they are addicted to drugs. If the offender can be treated for the addiction, oftentimes the criminal behavior ceases to exist.

5. RESTORATION – This goal can be applied to any of the four above. The idea is to repair any injury inflicted upon the victim by the offender. For example, one who steals $2000 from his neighbor will be required to repay that amount as part of the sentence. Restoration, or restitution as we call it in Georgia, is closely related to concepts in our civil justice system. Society wants to return the victim to his or her original position before the injury was inflicted by the offender. The victim needs to be made whole.

Societies differ greatly on the value of each of these objectives. The United States has implemented a broad mixture of all five objectives. However, we differ greatly by region. Most Southern and Western states still impose the death penalty in the most heinous cases. Other states have abolished capital punishment and use a very lenient system of parole.
Overall, in Georgia, we have a healthy criminal justice system that uses a reasonable mixture of the five pillars. We are improving every year under the leadership of Nathan Deal and General Assembly. We still use the death penalty in the appropriate manner in most cases. However, the use of drug courts, veteran’s courts, mental health courts, and other “accountability courts” is spreading across this state like wildfire. These courts focus on rehabilitation with the potential for stiff penalties if the offender fails to succeed.
The trend across America is generally shifting toward rehabilitation as we understand the nature of addiction, mental illness, and other behavioral issues. Focus on rehabilitation also saves states millions of dollars each year because of the decreased cost of incarceration and the increase in tax revenue from offenders. Of course, the most violent offenders and those who continue to go to prison do not receive the same treatment as non-violent drug offenders and those with no criminal history.
Of the five objectives, which one do you think is most important and why?