Thursday, 5 June 2008

Punishment and retribution

A horrific story has broken today involving a huge number of arrests for pedophilic pornography.  Amongst the comments one by Bob Debus, the Federal Attorney-General and my local member, caught my eye. He said "The fact that people are being caught with hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of images of abuse proves that the threat of long jail terms isn't enough to stop people." The view that punishment is justified by its effects primarily is very common (since most modern social ethics are developed on that utilitarian basis). This comment seems to reflect that view. Debus is not suggesting that we should stop punishing people even if it doesn't seem to 'work', and I am glad he isn't because punishment should have a retributive element as well. There is in his comment at least the hint that maybe we could find a way of stopping people from committing this crime. That, I think, is to put too much hope in technique and policy. We should be ever ready to punish those who do wrong, but we are deluded if we think we can devise ways of stopping wrongdoing.

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