Aija Butane: Penitentiary

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Posted on May 30, 2015 by Aija Butane

Penitentiary is an institution of retributive justice. It’s that kind of justice that concentrates on prosecution and punishment. It’s opposite to transitional justice that rebuilds societies after human right’s violations. One condemns the perpetrator, the other focuses on healing the victim. There are various ways to perform justice. One might feel that in order to achieve justice, a prison sentence is necessary. I want to question that. I’m not sure if the dark prison cells with stale air, peeling paint, and collapsed floor will turn the guilt into remorse. In my vision the goal is for the wrongdoers to confess and rediscover their humanity. In that case the sentence to this house of correction, or rather coercion, might be a mixed signal. If we want them to change, why lock them in this horrific cage that builds up their hate and indifference?

I want to make it clear that I’m not advocating for blank amnesties and impunity. I’m trying to find a better way to restore justice and reconcile. A justice that would promote remembrance and forgiveness and give the victim a voice. Penitentiary is a place where the justice is supposed to be executed and yet it is concentrated on the perpetrator and leaves the victim neglected. Maybe the penitentiary is a sign of miscarriage of justice after all?

About the Author: Aija Butane is a foreign exchange student, enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania.  She recently returned to her homeland, Latvia, where she plans to continue her studies specializing in human rights.

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