Criminal Justice

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How would a conservative reply to a call for more restorative justice? 

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Restorative justice is a concept that focuses on bringing all parties impacted by a crime together to repair the harm that the crime caused. Many conservatives would not support this form of justice.

Conservatives tend to view the Republican Party as the party of law and order. They tend to believe that if there are real deterrents for committing a crime, the deterrents will decrease the likelihood that the crime will be committed. They also believe that a person who has committed a crime should be punished for that action. They believe people should be put in jail for committing crimes that are harmful to society. Often, they will point to the decrease in crime rates in the 1990s and early 2000s as evidence that when people who commit serious crimes are put in jail for an extended period of time, the crime rate falls. Conservatives typically believe the concept of restorative justice is a trap that will harm the Republican Party. They believe restorative justice will not lead to lower crime rates or lower prison costs. Thus, they would be unlikely to support this concept.

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The terms "liberal" and "conservative" have become almost emblems of tribalism rather than having precise meanings concerning political philosophy. There is a wide spectrum of conservative beliefs, with some conservatives supporting criminal justice reform and some opposing it. How a conservative would respond to such a call depends on the type of conservative.

Social conservatives see politics as a way to uphold a social order. Some such social conservatives see the purpose of criminal justice as punishment or inculcation of moral values by strict rules with harsh deterrents. They would tend to see criminals as "evil" or "bad" people who should be incarcerated to avoid contaminating others.

Another major thread of conservative thought is Libertarianism, which aims to minimize government interference in private lives. Libertarians do not believe victimless crimes should be illegal at all and would like to reduce the scope of government. Since restorative justice allows the criminal to make reparations to the victim or victim's family with minimal long-term government interference, libertarians might support it.

Another conservative group is deeply religious. As forgiveness and charity are an important part of many religions, as is the concept of repentance, many deeply religious conservatives might support certain form of restorative justice. 

Another group of conservatives are basically business-oriented pragmatists. Such conservatives would look at two issues, the costs of incarceration and the likelihood that people would re-offend, and choose whichever system was actually more effective in reducing costs and recidivism.

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In general, most conservatives would respond to calls for more restorative justice by arguing that a more punitive approach is needed.  They would make these arguments for at least three reasons.  These reasons include:

  • Reasons of justice.  Conservatives would argue that it is just for people who break the law to be punished.  They would argue that it is not enough for them to do something to repair the harm done by their...

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  • actions.  Instead, they need to be punished in order for justice to be done.
  • Reasons of incapacitation.  Conservatives would argue for more punitive sanctions such as imprisonment because it ensures that criminals will not commit any further crimes for the term of their incarceration.  They would argue that it is all well and good to try to make restitution, but that the safety of the public is better served by putting criminals away where they cannot hurt innocent people.
  • Reasons of social cohesion.  Conservatives would also argue that society cannot hold together if people who transgress are not punished.  If all that is asked of criminals is that they in some way repair the damage they have done, society will fall apart.  People will no longer feel that government protects them from those who do wrong.  They will feel there is no reward to those who follow the rules.  Society will then start to break apart as fewer and fewer people actually follow rules.
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