What Cost Vengeance?

The Columbus Dispatch reports today that between 2016-17 the State of Ohio took drugs purchased by and intended for the state’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and gave them to the prison system to be used in executions. This despite warnings from drug manufacturers not to do so under threat of having drugs millions of people depend on, some to simply live, cut off. 

Put more simply: the state thought it was so important to execute people that it was worth putting the lives and health of the sick and those in need at risk to make it happen. This — along with empowering police to commit violence with impunity —  is one of the logical, violent end-points of the “tough-on-crime” political ideology. The place one reaches when one elevates vengeance above all other purposes of the criminal justice system.

And yes, there are purposes of the criminal justice system other than vengeance. 

Rehabilitating criminals and making them productive or, at the every least, non-harmful members of society was once thought of as a laudable goal, but now it is considered too soft. Supporting such a thing makes one vulnerable to political attack ads, so no politician dares to publicly say they are for it. This is why parole is harder to come by, draconian mandatory minimum sentences exist, and capricious “three-strikes” laws are passed. 

Simply incapacitating criminals and keeping them from committing more crimes is another purpose of the system. This one is seen as less wimpy by the tough-on-crime crowd, but it’s difficult and expensive to house the convicted and doesn’t satisfy that eye-for-an-eye bloodlust that seems so important. 

So we’re left with vengeance.

The problem, though, is that those who adhere to a code of vengeance do so out of the belief that it is mandated by God or some higher, moral power. As such, there is no end seen as more righteous and thus there is no price too high to pay to achieve it. Even if it means harming the sick and needy to see that vengeance is done. 

But it’s morally abhorrent. Vengeance is not ours. I’m ashamed to live in a state that believes it is. I’m ashamed to live in a state that values state-sanctioned killing above helping those in need.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the author of the daily baseball (and other things) newsletter, Cup of Coffee. He writes about other things at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.