Tuesday, January 27, 2009

From our court reporter...

There are several staples to the way the media report on court. One of the most frequent is victims or family members commenting after sentencing. These stories usually involve the victims or family members talking about how the sentence is too short, or disappointing in some way. Sometimes they just involve talk about how the sentancing represents 'closure'.

This sort of media disturbs me. Because the suffering of the people quoted is real, and often horrific, and it feels intrusive even to comment on their way of coping. But the function of these stories is to reinforce one of the fundamental, but nonsensical, ideas behind our (in)justice system:

"The way we value someone's suffering is the length of time we incarcerate the person who inflicted it."

This statement is treated as obvious and self-evident, but it's not. In fact it makes no sense at all, except as a description of the way society works.

But people who are suffering turn to and reinforce this idea. Partly I think this is a result of it's hegemonic status. But more importantly I think that people who have suffered great loss turn to this idea, because they have nothing else.

Our understanding of violence between people is centred entirely on what to do with the perpetrator, not about supporting those who have suffered. The state justice system doesn't even dream of saying to people "What would make this easier? What can we do for you?"

So when people who have suffered from violence condemn the lightness of a sentence, that certainly reinforces ideas of prison I disagree with. But I would suggest that this has to be understood in a context where they're offered nothing else. That there is no other way that society recognises their experiences and suffering.


  1. Anonymous8:24 am

    Simple yet, thought-provoking piece. Thanks again. :)

    - John A.

  2. Thanks for saying this so clearly.