I stumbled across an article today on the “pay-if-you-go” prison proposal. The short version of the proposal is that the government should force wealthy inmates to pay for their prison stays. The current example is the incarceration of the fraudster Bernie Madoff. As Daniel Freedman writes in Forbes:
In April of each year, the victims of Wall Street fraudster Bernard Madoff will write out checks to pay for his upkeep.
They will do it every time they pay their taxes–so that means ordinary taxpayers, too, deserve to feel aggrieved about Madoff’s offenses.
Freedman is right to be outraged; this is indeed an injustice. However, his solution is simply attempting to apply duct tape to a sinking ocean liner. The problem is systemic, and its roots are found in our flawed penology. We punish thieves–and Madoff is simply a clever thief–by warehousing them in prisons. Instead, what if we were to apply the penology found in Scripture?
If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.
Restitution and punitive damages are the focus of a Biblical penology. The thief had to pay back what he stole, and then some. The thief didn’t owe “society”, which really means the government. Rather, he owed his victim.
If we were more concerned about addressing the wrong done to victims and less concerned about the harm done to the system, we would be able to make real progress towards doing justice in this nation. Until then, we will continue to have more and more desperate schemes like “pay-if-you-go”.