There has been a sea change; whereas the use of torture and brutal punishments were routine, they are now the exception, and the subject of censure and debate when they occur, at least in the “enlightened” democracies of the world. In fact, we believe the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction. Anders Breivik, the right-wing Norwegian who massacred 77 people in bomb and gun attacks in 2011, and wounded hundreds more, complained that his cell and coffee are cold, he has no view and he’s not allowed skin moisturizer, according to the BBC. He has also complained that he does not have enough butter for his bread; having to rush his morning shave; and having to live in a cell that is decorated badly. This is a man who fully deserved the most barbaric of punishment meted out in medieval times, but, in this day and age, this mass murderer; this destroyer of families and countless lives, complains that his living conditions are “inhumane”. And he is certainly not alone: American financier Bernard Madoff stole billions and ruined thousands of lives, but the convicted swindler spends his days in prison reading detective novels.
In which time is justice more prevalent? What is more barbaric; to ruthlessly punish a man who has stolen food, or to tax citizens in order to feed a man who has purposely destroyed hundreds of lives?
Should justice change over time as society changes? In India in recent years there have been instances of community sanctioned gang-rape, as in the infamous case of Mukhtar Mai. Yet India has recently made stalking a crime, and has penalties, at least in theory, of up to one year in jail just for making lewd gestures – which is extremely common – and 5 years for groping. This is the sort of wild overcompensation you often see in crime and punishment around the world, as systems swing between extremes. Decades of discrimination against minorities in the US were followed with affirmative action programs; do the crimes of the past call for remedies across society, or should justice be meted out on a case by case basis regardless of what has happened in the past? We argue for the latter approach. The crimes of the past should not be paid for by those living in the present.