Source: (2012) Christian Reflection. Prison. pp. 20-28.

I would like to emphasize two points prior to beginning our discussion. First, in the rather antiseptic vocabulary and procedural formality of Western law and justice, it is important to remember that punishment is an act of violence. The late Robert Cover, noted professor at Yale Law School, has written: “Judges deal pain and death. That is not all that they do. Perhaps that is not what they usually do. But they do deal death, and pain. From John Winthrop through Warren Burger they have sat atop a pyramid of violence….”3 Second, in our judicial methodology the amount of punishment is determined and orchestrated in a subject/object duality: the offender must be presented and viewed primarily as a lawbreaker who is required to suffer at the hands of the state and its agents if found guilty of the culpable offense. It is vital to consider the troubling ambiguities in these juridical rituals and in the moral assumptions underlying them. Ronald Dworkin gives voice to the moral ghosts that haunt the daily determinations of the proper quantum of pain to which the legally culpable must be subject: “Day in and day out we send people to jail…or make them do things they do not want to do, under coercion of force, and we justify all of this by speaking of such persons as having broken the law…. Even in clear cases…we are not able to give a satisfactory account of what that means, or why that entitles the state to punish or coerce.” (excerpt)

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