Defining Justice

The definition of justice, at least according to various dictionaries and encyclopedias, is the quality of being just; righteousness, equitableness, or moral rightness. The more colloquial meaning of the word can be assumed to be considered what is fair, or right. The real debate on this word is what fits into the definition; what is justice? What is righteous, just, or fair?

There is a theory Jerald Greenburg argues, supported by decades of research that, although most trains of thought in regard to justice flow in the same direction, people’s perceptions of fairness, or right and wrong, are largely based on norms and values. “Specifically, what people believe to be fair depends on their exposure to consensually validated opinions regarding appropriate ways to distribute outcomes and treat others. Repeated exposure to these standards breeds expectations that serve as the basis for assessment of fairness.

” To comply with these expectations is then interpreted as acts of fairness, whereas to violate these expectations is to commit an act of unfairness (365). For instance, in the criminal justice system there are currently several different forms of justice. Retributive Justice, Restorative Justice, and Distributive Justice are all theories of justice that can be applied to crime with a large amount of people supporting either that particular belief of justice, or multiple beliefs.

Each of these ideas has its own merits and pitfalls but all fit someone’s idea of how things should be done, or is at least close. However, depending on the situation due to severity of a crime, damage inflicted, how it affects an individual or group personally, etc… a person, or group, can either change their ideas about which form of justice they support, or simply be harsh or more lenient towards an offender (Gromet, Darley 51).

Through a contrast of several forms of justice, what is perceived to be the definition of justice will be shown to be subject to one’s own perspective and influenced by the situation, and expectations based on norms and values. First, there is Retributive Justice, which is a theory of justice that considers that punishment, if proportionate, is a morally acceptable response to crime, with an eye to the satisfaction and psychological benefits it can bestow to the aggrieved party, its intimates and society.

“In a mainstream Retributive Justice model, crime is seen as a violation of the state defined by lawbreaking and guilt. Justice determines blame and administers pain in a contest between offender and the state directed by systematic rules” (qtd. in Framework). There are two slightly different forms to this theory that are currently in debate with one another, the first is the classic definition of Retributive Justice; that the punishment must be comparative to the amount of harm caused by the offence.

The origins of this theory can be traced back to several ancient civilizations or texts; a better known reference for this form of justice can be found in the Bible from the Book of Exodus, which states “And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt[sic] give life for life, Eye[sic] for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning[sic] for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe (The Bible, Exodus. 21. 22-25). ” The second form was put forth by a modern philosopher, Michael Davis.

The theory that replaced the classic concept of retributive justice was; the amount of punishment must be proportional to the amount of unfair advantage gained by the wrongdoer. This theory, instead of focusing the crime and amount of harm caused, focuses on the reason the crime was committed and what was gained by the offender. Next, there is Restorative Justice, which is a theory and method in criminal justice in which it is arranged that the victim and the community receive restitution from the offender.

Restorative Justice emphasizes, through more active participation in the justice process, the importance of uplifting the role of victims and the community and holding offenders directly responsible to the people they have violated. This is accomplished by “providing a range of opportunities for dialogue, negotiation and problem solving, which can lead to a greater sense of community safety, social harmony and peace for all involved” (qtd. in Framework).

Indeed, Restorative Justice is viewed as a way to carry out justice so that healing may occur, this includes “calling to account for one’s actions; reparation; dealing with what went wrong ;[sic] dealing with the feelings and issues around it; dealing with the harm of the crime, but also of the harm of the criminal-justice process”(qtd. in Framework), all of these ideas are integrated into the central concepts of the healing process. Active community involvement is also emphasized.

The community is encouraged to take a more authoritative role in the criminal justice process as it strengthens the community itself and builds up and supports community values of respect and compassion for others. As a result of this process, the role of the government as the solitary power of the criminal justice system is substantially reduced. “Restorative Justice demands a cooperative effort by the community and the government to create an environment in which victims and offenders may reconcile their conflicts and resolve their injuries.

Victims and offenders are able to do this best when the government preserves order and the community promotes peace” (qtd. in Framework). The recognition of community in place of criminal justice agencies as the chief position on crime control is central to restorative justice thinking (Framework). Lastly, there is Distributive Justice, which is “In the domain of justice–i. e. , the allocation or distribution of material resources or symbolic goods, rights and duties, positions, power, opportunities, taxes, etc.

, within or between groups or populations– equality” (Montanda, L). Within the realm of Distributive Justice there are a total of seven different versions: John Rawls’ theory, Ronald Dworkin’s theory, Right Libertarianism, Left Libertarianism, Utilitarianism, Pluralism, and Strict Egalitarianism. Although all the versions above do have their followers, the most prominent would be considered John Rawls’ theory, and Utilitarianism. Rawls’ theory proposes two principles of justice.

First, “each person has an equal claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic rights and liberties, which scheme is compatible with the same scheme for all; and in this scheme the equal political liberties, and only those liberties, are to be guaranteed their fair value. ” Second is, “social and economic inequalities are to satisfy two conditions: (a) They are to be attached to positions and offices open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity; and (b), they are to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society” (Favor, Lamont).

Similarly, there is Utilitarianism, a theory which is supported, among others, by J. S Mills. This form of distributive justice “takes its primary aim the attainment of maximum possible happiness of a society as a whole (Petrovic). ” In this theory Neven Petrovic states what makes all the people in society happy: wants, needs, and preferences must be summed up, and a method found to satisfy the greatest number, is the goal to be accomplished.

Followers of this theory believe that equal distribution of a resource, jobs, position, money, etc… is often the best. It is also believed someone who has a large amount of one resource will not find it as valuable as someone with very little of it. Comparatively, each of these forms of justice is in sharp contrast with one another, focuses changing from; retribution, which is fundamentally revenge; to restorative, which is focused on healing; to distribution, or equality, which is focused on the good of society more than individuals.

Each of these theories of justice all deal with situations, a crime for example, a different way, each turning out potentially different outcomes. For example, using the topic of rape, Retributive Justice could be seen as the most satisfying to a victim; the offender paying for what he has done. However, with this method there is no guarantee that the offender will be rehabilitated and may leave the victim lacking in closure.

Katherine van Wormer suggests that Restorative Justice, with the topic of rape, might be difficult due to the nature of the crime and the blatant unbalance in the relationship between the victim and offender involved, but if feasible could provide the most closure to the victim (107). Distributive Justice in this case would focus more on what would most benefit society while trying to bestow equality on both parties involved. It would not focus on providing closure to the victim; however, it is also plausible that the verdict decided could both satisfy the victim and benefit society.

Also, there are good and bad opinions about all of the theories of justice listed. Retributive Justice is often considered to prefer punitive measures such as prison sentences as a solution to crime; but this raises a multitude of problems such as an overcrowded and expensive prison system, and the solidifying of the inmate’s identity as a criminal(Gromet, Darley 50). But, there also the view that prison sentences keep criminals off the streets and discourage criminal activity.

Restorative Justice has been criticised, albeit by few, that it is only appropriate for lower level crimes and more serious offences, such as murder and rape, are not eligible because serious crimes deal with dangerous individuals; the victims of which would not likely want to reconcile with them. However for less serious crimes, or even an open minded victim of a serious one, Restorative Justice is considered to be more beneficial to everyone involved, achieving the best overall results.

Distributive Justice can be best attributed to, in the criminal justice system, the issue of racial profiling; this problem is blatantly obvious in the United Stated where most inmates are of an ethnicity other than white. The problem with Distributive Justice, as stated above, is that it does not always leave victims of crimes feeling satisfied, that justice was done. In conclusion, the theory of justice judged most appealing from the three listed above would be subject to individual opinion and highly dependent upon the situation. Works cited “Framework Paper on Restorative Justice. ” Correctional Services of Canada.

CSC Online. May. 1998. Web. 3 Nov. 2009. . Davis, Michael “Make the Punishment Fit the Crime: Essays in the Theory of Criminal Justice. ” Westview Press, 1992. Print. Favor, Christi. , and Julian Lamont. “Distributive Justice. ” SEP Online. Stanford. 5 March 2007. Web. 2 Nov. 2009. . Greenberg, Jerald “Studying Organizational Justice Cross-Culterally: Fundamental challanges. ” International Journal of Conflict Management (1997-2002) 12. 4 (2001): 365. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 22 Oct. 2009 Gromet, Dena M. , and John M. Darley. “Retributive and restorative justice: Importance of crime severity.

” Australian Journal of Psychology 61. 1 (2009): 50–57. Print. Montanda, L. Justice and its many Faces: Cultural Comcerns. ” International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. 1st ed. 2001. Print Petrovic, Neven. “Utilitarianism. ” Distributive-Justice. ”MAPA, Aug. 200. Web. 2 Nov 2009 . The Holy Bible Containing the Old a New Testaments, Volume VI. Ed. Mackail, John W. Glascow: Glascow UP,2008. Print. Wormer, Katherine van. “Restorative Justice as Social Justice for Victims of Gendered Violence: A Standpoint Feminist Perspective. ” Social Work 54. 1(2009): 108-116. Print.