last year i wrote a post on my own blog about how thankful i was in not having to interact with the justice system. i've managed to escape any serious involvement thus far, and given the interactions i have had were quite stressful, i can only imagine how difficult it is for people who are fully embroiled in this kind of thing.
possibly it's because i'm too soft-hearted, too much aware of social justice issues and that into punitive justice measures. but i find a decision to press charges to be a most difficult one. it can have such a powerful impact on someone's life: on their ability to earn a living, on their social standing and self-worth. it impacts others in the immediate family, not only in practical terms (eg losing a breadwinner) but in emotional terms given the shame and embarassment attached to such an event.
i don't believe those impacts are any greater for someone who is in a higher socio-economic class. i think the poorest of us can feel the same level of shame and embarassment as the richest, and the richest of us can be as immune to any kind of remorse as the poorest. i do think that poverty can cause a special kind of desperation that causes an increase in criminal action - hence the increase in crime when the unemployment rate rises.
i've never had to serve on a jury, but if i did, i know that i'd find it extremely difficult to come to a guilty verdict. even when the evidence is clear, and there is no doubt about motive & intention to harm. i would do it (ie vote for a guilty verdict) but i would hate to do it, knowing what i know about prisons, about the difficulties of families being broken up and innocent people suffering the consequences.
i do understand the need for justice and i don't deny the fact that people must be held accountable for their actions. i know that it would be extremely difficult for society to function without a justice system. it's just the practicalities of administering justice: i find it extremely hard to do and i hate the feeling of being responsible for destroying someone else's life. and yes, i know that the person who committed the crime is actually the one responsible for destroying their own life through their own actions. but being even the slightest bit involved in delivering that destruction, being a part of the process that sees a person descend into hopelessness and helplessness, is pretty difficult.
the reason we do it is, of course, for the victims of crime, and further potential victims if the offender isn't stopped. at least that's the only reason i would choose to put anyone through the grinder that is our justice system. i don't see that creating more misery will wipe out the misery that has already been caused by the crime.
i'd possibly feel differently if a criminal action had affected me personally - perhaps that primal need for vengeance would be much stronger than i imagine. i sincerely hope i never have to find out.