What is justice?

Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach, has been found guilty on 45 of 48 counts involving child rape and molestation. His sentencing is yet to come, but no matter what the actual sentence is, it’s highly unlikely that he will ever see anything outside of the walls of the prison to which he will be confined. (And that’s assuming he isn’t actually given a life sentence, admittedly a huge assumption.)

And those are just the counts for which he was tried. Who knows how many other kids — including his own son — were molested but not cited in one of the counts for which he was convicted? The best thing we can say here is that he’s not going to hurt anyone else.

Undoubtedly, there will be no shortage of blog entries over the course of the next few weeks and months, where the author will argue that Sandusky will be raped and possibly even murdered in prison. They’re probably right that it’s going to happen. Looking at recent examples that follow similar patterns, John Geoghan was killed in prison about a year and a half after his conviction, and Jeffrey Dahmer lasted about two years. Without regard to whether it’s right or even just that it happens, I think it’s reasonable to assume that the same fate will likely befall Sandusky. Barring a heart attack or some other health issue that is likely to come from the stress of this entire situation, he will not die a natural death.

But here’s where the most heinous of crimes really tries the limits of the definition of “justice”. Part of the reason why I don’t really have much of a problem with the death penalty is that — disproportionate handing down of the sentence notwithstanding — is that we go out of our way to ensure that it’s not in violation of the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the eighth amendment of the US constitution. (Although I’m sure that fans of Gilbert and Sullivan might disagree… You can’t let the punishment fit the crime when more than one life has been ruined by the criminal, since the criminal only has one life to ruin in retribution. Read the stories of anyone who was victimized by Timothy McVeigh in response to his execution.)

We should not celebrate the near certainty that Jerry Sandusky will be raped and murdered in prison. It’s not really an “if” but rather a “when”. But we should not look the other way when it happens, either; anyone who does it in prison should be tried and to the full extent of the law.

But with that question out of the way, the bigger question is: how can we help Sandusky’s victims to heal? His conviction clearly marks the end of a painful part of their lives. But what can help them move on? I have never known anyone who has been raped, to have wished that being raped on their attacker (although, I suspect, it is possible for some…)

So how can we truly hope for justice for Sandusky’s victims? Is it a lost cause to begin with? Is justice even a worthy goal for someone whose crimes were as widespread and heinous as Sandusky’s were? What exactly is justice in situations like this?

I’ll be curious to know how other countries would handle something like this. We’re going to see one example in the not-too-distant future with the trial of Anders Breivik.


One response to “What is justice?

  1. I think that looking for “justice”, in the first place, is problematic.

    The concept of “justice” is tied to the idea of things being made “fair” through some sort of payment (money, time in prison etc…) or through revenge (a payment taken instead of given). Either way, when someone is wronged they are left with a feeling like there is a debt to be paid in order for things to be fair and just- so they can attain a sence of closure and peace.

    I would really like to see more people embrace the idea that life is not fair and that some debts just never get paid. If a person can accept this as fact, they will have to give up being dependant on attaining “justice” for every wrong.

    Hopefully, they continue to seek closure and don’t just end up bitter and feeling hurt by the inherent injustice of the universe. I think most people, if they really believe that life isn’t always fair and they don’t take it personally, find it easier to reach peace with a situation because they are not expecting “justice” to begin with. There is no disapointment and no feeling like a debt is owed. They will still have to process their emotions and find a way to move on, but it will not be dependant in anything outside if themselves.

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