I've been thinking about justice a lot lately, and what we expect to happen when someone does something wrong. There are a few things we can focus on: making sure those who have been wronged are made whole, making sure those who have done wrong are punished, and making sure our solution leads to a better society. There are certainly times when these goals coincide, when one person steals from another for example. We can have the thief repay the victim for what was stolen, and add a bit for their trouble. This serves to make the victim whole, and if the extra is the right amount, it should discourage people from stealing in the future.
Of course, it isn't always so easy. If someone is raped or beaten to a pulp, it might not really be possible to make them whole. We will obviously try to do what we can for the victim, make sure they get medical care and some compensation for lost work and such, but there is definitely a part of us that wants to make sure the criminal gets punished. There is a certain amount that this will also make society better by making people think twice before committing such a crime, but I'm not sure how far this goes (I'm sure we've all heard that the death penalty is not a deterrent). But I think people are generally focused on the punishment side of things.
I can understand why people want to focus on punishment, when I hear about certain crimes (like rape) within a few seconds my mind goes toward how horrible it must have been for that woman, then I can imagine it happening to someone I know and care about, then I immediately want the guy to be punished. I'll have a little fantasy of kicking the guy repeatedly in the balls, or some other such thing. Fuck that guy. It is easy to just focus on making sure he winds up in jail and leave it at that. The problem with spending our focus on punishment is that we often don't make our society better, and we might even make it worse. If we send them to jail and don't worry about what happens to them while they are there, how will it improve our society when they get out? We should make sure their time in prison is actually rehabilitation and not just punishment. Is it possible to rehabilitate a rapist? I don't know, but I'm pretty sure our current prisons are terrible enough that they only make criminals worse.
When it comes to justice, the bible seems to focus mostly on the punishment side of things rather than rehabilitation. Just look at Sodom and Gomorrah or Noah's flood. The bible expects us to believe that everyone in those cities were evil, or in the case of the flood, everyone on earth except for 8 people were evil and deserved to die. There doesn't seem to be a lot of effort put towards bringing those people around, making them realize that they have lead a bad life and change things. No, they are just killed. Sometimes I wonder if these ideas are baked into the brains of the average believer in this country. Perhaps that is why we are so focused on punishment in this country and so few people seem to be concerned with the conditions within the prisons.