Learning Commensurability: Why It’s Wrong to Over-Punish Evil Deeds

“A thief ran away from the police, and he was shot dead,” said the anchorwoman. The people on the bus looked at the TV screen, their faces unsurprised, undisturbed. Buti nga, said one passenger.

I’m thinking, If he were brought to court, he wouldn’t receive the death penalty for stealing. Heck, the Philippines already repealed the death sentence.

A blogger tells me she’s ok that under the Cybercrime Law libel is punishable for up to twelve years. I ask, Isn’t that too harsh? She replies, Buti nga para matakot sila.

That’s not the point.

People who break the law deserve to be punished, but the punishment has to be commensurable to the crime committed. This means that a petty thief should not be punished the same way as a murderer. Even if the thief did something wrong, you cannot say that stealing is on the same level as murder.

Our sense of justice shouldn’t be content with lumping criminals all together. We should only approve of punishment if it is a commensurable kind of punishment, a contextualized kind of punishment, the right kind of punishment, the just kind of punishment. Treating criminals justly is a mark of a civilized society, a thinking society, a society that we can be proud of.

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2 thoughts on “Learning Commensurability: Why It’s Wrong to Over-Punish Evil Deeds

  1. Excellent topic, Ja! I know there isn’t a death penalty in the Philippines but in the USA, where I am from, 33 of the 50 States have the death penalty. Sentencing seems to always be a hot topic, as the jury recommends but the judge has the final decision in the sentencing.

    Just this month in Dallas,Texas, USA, a 23 year old mother received 99 years in prison from a judge for beating her 2 year old daughter and gluing her hands to the wall. Many think the punishment is too harsh while others seem to think she got off light!

    Depending on which State in America, the annual cost for housing each inmate in a State Prison is $19,000-$29,000 per year. The inmates with major health problems cost much more.

    My last job in the USA was with the a State Department of Corrections and I worked in a State prison as a Sgt of Corrections Officers. It was not a safe place to work and I was stabbed once by an inmate, who had a homemade knife. Thankfully to God, I was not seriously hurt or worse, killed.

    There is one thing in common with the justice system in both countries and that is those with money or those who are high profile can afford the best
    attorneys and they are often punished less severely, if at all, than the common persons. Or so, it seems. I am not being critical but I think that may be the way it is in many countries! Just an observation.

    I recall a case earlier this year in Manila where two pedicab drivers were arrested for raping and killing a darling little 7 year old girl. Within a couple of days, both inmates were shot by policemen inside the police station when they tried to grab the firearm of one officer. Human Rights activists cried out on the inmates behalf while others say the policemen should be awarded the highest honors. I agree that certain crimes, heinous in nature, raise the passion of the public and many cry out for justice to be handed down in the harshest measures. Like in the case where the mother who beat her daughter and glued her hands to the wall. Justice should fair to all but it isn’t always fair.

    ~ Gary ~


    1. Wow you worked at a prison? That’s a really interesting experience! I’m glad you weren’t seriously injured because of the attack. That must have been really scary. Thank you for sharing those cases. They’re all really interesting!


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