They may need prisons, jails, probation, and parole to help us deal with people we do not know what else to do with, but that does not mean we must keep millions of people under supervision or spend billions doing it. In an imperfect world, justice will never be perfect, if for no other reason than that once harm has been done it can never be wholly undone. At the same time, we should not magnify the effects of that harm more than necessary by our response, even if respond we must.


In this, They agreed with Barack Obama, who said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, “To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism—it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of men, and the limits of reason.” Obama was addressing the use of force in the international arena, but his message applies equally to the use of force and punishment in our search for a justice system. A government’s power to punish is so awesome that it must be tempered by the knowledge of our own human failings.


Nor should we accept that the basic American belief in the possibility and power of redemption has been lost among our people. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.” Both our limitations and potentials as human beings living together, insofar as we choose to allow them, can obscure our vision or unleash our strengths.