If you do a quick study of, say, Leviticus, with an eye toward how the Jewish theocratic system of justice differed from our own, you find a number of interesting points:
1. Offenders were never allowed to be a burden on society. Penalties included restitution and corporal punishment even up to death, but never incarceration.
2. Justice was swift and local. Whether an offense called for the payment of a few coppers or a stoning, the local judge heard the dispute, made a ruling, and declared the sentence. Two weeks from crime to punishment was probably common.
3. Everybody knew the whole of the Law. The Pentateuch makes a smallish book, but it contains all of the Mosaic law with many repetitions, along with much history. Everyone could memorize the criminal code by their teenage years, and everyone was trained to do so. (This was part of what we call “education.”)
4. The Law was never distinguished from morality. The Israelites never had “victimless crimes.” Every offense was an offense against God for starters, and possibly others besides. This is important because the Law was never arbitrary, and so never engendered contempt.
These are traits I’d like to see brought back to our own laws, but I tell you the truth…I’m not holding my breath.
Prison And The Law
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