Prolonged prison sentences defeat the idea of true justice
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The Bombay High Court’s order commuting the death sentence awarded by a trial court to the three convicts in the Shakti Mills rape case is welcome, but some of the comments and observations made by the court in the judgement would be contested. The convicts were awarded capital punishment for the gangrape of two women in the Shakti Mills compound near the Mahalaxmi Race Course in Mumbai in 2013. The convictions were under Section 376 E of the IPC, which was brought in after the 2012 Nirbhaya case of Delhi. The court rightly observed that the Section did not mandatorily provide for the death sentence and the court could not be swayed by the public outcry for awarding the maximum punishment to the convicts. It meant that the death sentence was disproportionate.
The court commuted the death sentence to “a sentence of rigorous imprisonment for the remainder of their natural life without any remission, parole or furlough which would meet the ends of justice.” But it was guided by a wrong idea of justice when “beyond reformation” and “do not deserve to assimilate with the society.” This is retributive justice, even though the judge commuted the death sentence. The penal system in the country as such is retributive, and provides for extremely harsh punishments. The right system of justice is reformatory, and jurisprudence should be based on the idea that every individual has the right and potential for reform. The idea of imprisonment itself is misunderstood. It is not meant to cut a person off from society but to make him realise the importance of living in a society. While the death sentence extinguishes the right itself of a person to reform, long sentences make the individual’s reform irrelevant for society.
Prolonged prison sentences defeat the idea of true justice. The ideal sentence should combine punishment with the need for reform so that a guilty person is held to account but is given the chance to mend. A prison term of seven years is not too short for punishment and not too long for an individual to be lost for society. This existed before the Nirbhaya case and could still be considered as the right duration of jail term in a just and compassionate society. Extremely stringent and lifelong punishment is not the norm of enlightened justice. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in 2011, is serving a prison term of 21 years which is the maximum in that country. The death sentence and long prison terms do not deter crimes, as evidenced by America. Both are wrong and unjust, and go against the idea that justice should be humane.