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I would strongly recommend reading at least a summary of Plato's Republic if you haven't already, since it is, essentially, an extended Socratic essay on criminal justice.
The Socratic method employs a general form of;
- definition of components of the statement
- evaluation of definitions
- acceptance or rebuttal of the statement
- justice is repaying your debts
- repaying debts might include returning lended weapons to a madman
- no one would consider this to be a good thing
- therefore justice cannot be defined as repayment of debts
We might go a step further and argue that this is simply an overly-generalized statement, and we could add conditionals to reduce the chance of abuse, but this will complicate things.
To write an essay in this format, you're going to have to introduce the statements yourself, either in the form of your thesis, or by drawing on general approaches to criminal justice. For example, statements could include
- the death penalty is morally wrong
- the Three Strikes law is an effective deterrent
- juveniles accused of capital offenses should be tried as adults
You should then investigate the data and words around these claims, for example,
- who and how do we define morality? what are the terms of the death penalty? is there anything else less controversial which matches these conditions?
- what do we consider to be a deterrent? was this the original intent of the law?
- what are capital offenses? why are they considered worse, and is that reputation deserved? what purpose does it serve to try juveniles as adults?
Present this data as an opportunity for both sides to "speak" on the issue. Then evaluate whether or which side is most substantial; you might focus especially on cases which support your point. You can also consider whether to treat this section solely as a refutation or support of the statement, or to consider the implications of both sides.
Another approach would be to use a statement-hypothesis-test-results method, similar to a science project. In this case, you could investigate the reasons for specific actions having been taken, and then see whether they succeeded or failed in their objective, determining whether X will lead to Y. This gives the "sides" less opportunity to speak but is probably easier for you to control. For example, you might posit that "the death penalty was instituted to deter extreme crimes from occurring". If research shows that most death penalty subjects have extreme personalities, and that the rate of death-penalty-eligible crimes has actually increased, then we might conclude that the law has failed in its intended purpose.
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