Nowadays, we see many people on the news being punished for illegal behavior. Although quite a number of them have committed minor offenses, there are many serious criminals. Among them, some have savagely killed innocent civilians, committed sexual harassment against pedestrians at night, or stolen enormous amounts of financial assets from ordinary people. As we watch all of this on the news, the public soon becomes upset and begins to demand that the judicial branch punish criminals as harshly as the law permits. Each time, after a long trial, the court declares a sentence. These sentences appear on mass media, but once again the public complains about them being disappointingly light for the crime committed. Then, at last, the public gradually forgets about the cases as criminals go to jail. On the other hand, if suspects are sentenced to probation and then go free, the public seems to express furious resentment, but this anger does not last long, and we soon become indifferent once again.
At this point, perhaps we unconsciously forgive the criminals because we accept that they were punished, after all, following the due process that is written into the law. However, could we really accept that they have received enough punishment? Before we can answer this question, however, there is another question we should consider: if we, members of the public who merely react to news, have not been affected or harmed by these crimes, do we have a right to judge whether someone’s offenses have been punished sufficiently? Perhaps this public judgement is a dangerous deception that hurts the actual victims, and their families, even more. Furthermore, perhaps we also need to think about the feelings of the criminals who have received the punishment. While some offenders do engage in self-reflection while serving their sentences, we may doubt whether most would simply turn over a new leaf in jail. In other words, through our modern punishment system, through conventional penalties such as imprisonment or fines, most criminals cannot actually be punished or corrected.
Considering these questions, what is the most important result that the public should expect from punishment? Perhaps it is not the penalty that matters, but the acknowledgement of responsibility by the perpetrator that we seek. The word “responsibility” has two meanings. First, externally, criminals must take responsibility for their offenses and do their best to restore their victims’ physical, financial, and psychological well-being. Of course, there is no single, best way to compensate victims for their wounds and agony, but at least offenders should demonstrate their sincere self-reflection so that the wounds their victims suffer can be healed little by little. Secondly, there is internal responsibility. Criminals must not forget their transgressions, and they must imprison themselves in a sense of guilt for their lifetimes. Only through a severe feeling of guilt, can they salvage their minimum honor as members of society; if they do so, they truly are punished, and truly rehabilitated. Such continuous repentance functions as an intangible jail for them.
However, unfortunately, as we well know, these results are usually not realistic. These days, some criminals betray the trust of many people at once, exercising unjust power and neglecting important duties before finally ending up in jail. As we can see, these criminals have denied their sins and have tried their best to avoid what they should accept ? fair punishment and responsibility. Wealth and political influence have become effective shields to protect them from justice. For these people, it seems that the word “responsibility” is not on their minds, or was erased from their vocabularies a long time ago. Even in our own lives, whether we commit a crime or just engage in our normal relationships, sometimes we are also tempted to evade compensating for our wrongs against others. However, what we should remember is that when someone hurts others, it will come back to us at an unpredictable time in an unpredictable way. This means that criminals, and all of us, cannot avoid being responsible for what we’ve done. If we do not take responsibility now, it will be much more painful when we are forced to take responsibility later. It is not that easy to change at once, but if everyone understands the concept of shamefulness and remembers the basic mechanism of sin and responsibility, our society will be a much better place to live.
School of Business Administration, ’15