Justice and Forgiveness

***trigger warning for animal violence***

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concepts and connection of justice and forgiveness. Much of what has sparked this idea is Michael Vick’s–convicted felon and Quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles–successful return to the NFL. He is a polarizing person these days. People continue to raise concerns about his successful career in light of his being convicted of engaging and financing dog fighting ventures. His conviction brought with it a 23 month prison sentence which he served and probation which he is currently serving (ends in 2012). He has been convicted of  heinous violent crimes. He has admitted to directly participating in dog fighting and the execution of 6-8 dogs by hanging or drowning. Terrible, terrible things.

I cannot nor would I ever defend his crimes or conviction, but what I’ve been thinking about is this idea of (and not just of Vick) about life after the crime and punishment. I’m thinking about the role of forgiveness in allowing convicted criminals to re-join society.  We have a justice system that provides sentences for criminals to serve in order to pay the debt for the crimes committed. Too often we hear of stories of how convicted criminals cannot find jobs upon release from prison because of their criminal background. They have a difficult time re-joining society because of the barriers of criminal histories. And I’m thinking that forgiveness is missing. In order for our justice system to work, we as a society have to accept that 1) people make mistakes, 2) people can change, 3) that serving a sentence for crime should pay the debt for the crime, and 4) provide for forgiveness to people after serving time. If we are unwilling to accept these ideas then what is the point of having people serve anything but life sentences? If they are continually punished for their crime after they have served their sentence, why bother letting them out of prison? Again, this is beyond Vick, people are continually held hostage by their criminal backgrounds which limits the opportunities for change and success. I’m not advocating for forgetting or not holding people accountable for the heinous crimes they commit, but what I’m arguing is to truly have justice, if the punishment for a crime is less than a life sentence than we need to learn forgiveness so that people can move beyond their mistakes and allow for successful transition back into society.