The Problem with Treating Crime Like a Disease

Many people believe the punishment of a crime should not be viewed as a penalty the criminal deserves; it should be understood as rehabilitation that works to cure the criminal. These people believe this way is more humane and will keep people from being treated unjustly. However, it is important to remember that if you remove the idea of penalty from the corrective action, you also remove the possibility of justice. In treating criminals as patients, any treatment can be justified, as long as necessary, in the name of a cure provided it is done with the “best interest” of the offender in mind.

Another belief is that this theory tends to be more merciful, but in reality, just as it destroys the concept of justice, it also destroys the possibility of mercy. For if a just penalty was deserved, then an actual pardon or mercy could be given, but if we view the criminal as ill, then it would never be merciful to withhold treatment.

The following quote by C.S. Lewis also provides us with a glimpse of how quickly this theory can spiral downward. “If crimes are diseases, why should diseases be treated any differently from crimes? And who but the experts can define disease? One school of psychology regards my religion as a neurosis. If this neurosis ever becomes inconvenient to Government, what is to prevent my being subjected to a compulsory ‘cure’? It may be painful; treatments sometimes are. But it will be no use asking, ‘what have I done to deserve this?’ The Straightener will reply: ‘But, my dear fellow, no one’s blaming you. We no longer believe in retributive justice. We’re healing you.”

Secular ideas like this rarely stay in the political realm. They either originate from bad theology or find there way there. In denying a just penalty for crime, most people will also deny a just penalty for sin, thus denying the gospel. Jesus was our substitute. On the cross, he bore just penalty for our sins, the wrath of God. Yes, it is true that he also heals us, but the healing of our sin-sick soul is not the basis of our salvation. The atoning work of Christ on the cross is the root, and our new life in Christ is the fruit. Since our Father is a just God, our sanctification would not be possible had his wrath not been satisfied.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5

-D. Eaton

Related: Either God must punish sin, or there is no need for forgiveness.

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