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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Perverted justice

The Ted Klaudt case is a cultural touchstone. It is significant for the moral attitudes it elicits from the people of the state. In their responses, the essential character of the people is revealed.

When I was relating the case to some colleagues in Iowa and Illinois, they said it sounded like a sketch from Saturday Night Live. The circumstances seem so preposterous. They said the scheme sounds like something that would be dreamed up by horny adolescents, not a grown presumably mature man. The betrayal of trust and abuse of authority is not lost on anyone, however, but beyond the ludicrous aspects of the case, the devastating humiliations of the victims and the Klaudt family are the salient residuals of the case.

In this, the recent postings at South Dakota War College on restitution are relevant. In a sexual abuse case, the person convicted of the abuse of a young woman was sentenced to pay for the counseling and therapy, paid an initial part of it, about $5,000, but after being discharged from parole, he was not held liable for the major part of the bill, which amounted to more than $190,000.

This posting brings up an aspect of justice that is almost totally missing from our system: reparations. Our system of justice is primitive. It is dedicated to vengeance on the convicted, not justice for victims and society at large. It is as if Jesus Christ had never lived and the New Testament had never been written. Most people cannot grasp why Christ confronted revenge and vengeance as a destructive force that damages people as much as the violent and criminal acts that may be committed against them. Vengeance, he taught, is the Lord's. Our job is to repair the damage and rise above our primal urges to inflict revenge and bask in moral superiority. There are few Christian churches that would tolerate a pastor who preached this aspect of the New Law. In fact, there are few churches that include the New Law as part of Christian doctrine. Ministers know better than to preach it. They do not last long in the ministry of the church if they do.

The reaction in South Dakota blogs gives evidence of how justice is conceived by many, probably a majority. Ted Klaudt is not an attractive looking man. In the rage to condemn him. a number of bloggers have made his physical appearance a part of their vilifications. Mature, perspicacious, classy acts.

Klaudt was also a taunting, obnoxious anti-choice advocate. The inconsistency of man who claims a right-to-life stance and then connives to damage young lives is a deadly irony. It reveals a failed human being who has presumed to speak as a responsible moral authority, but could not act with moral competence. The blogs have gloated a bit over the irony and found some pleasure in being able to exemplify the moral hypocrisy as part of the general anti-choice mentality. This really puts the controversy on a solvable plane of discourse. Every moral principle we need to know we learned from playground bully sessions. (The preceding statements are known as verbal irony.)

That brings up the matter of a fitting punishment. The plains Indians had a way of dealing with people who killed or damaged another person in some way. The offender was required to look after the welfare of those affected by his acts for the rest of their lives. The concept was to use the productive abilities of the offender to redeem himself as a responsible, contributor to the life of the tribe. It was directed at building society, not further destroying lives.

Personally, I am diffident about the death penalty. It really serves little purpose but to satisfy the lust for vengeance, but at times it is a mercy killing that offers a humane end to the hopeless, the unredeemable, and the dangerous. But it also makes collective killers out the society that takes satisfaction from retribution. When death is witnessed for the pleasure and thrill of seeing someone in their death throes, it is not justice. It is the most debased kind of perversion. The integrity of the death sentence has been too often found lacking, as in the case of the 18 men exonerated from death row in Illinois by DNA evidence. It is not an instrument of justice.

Jails and penitentiaries have become nothing more than graduate schools in criminality. They rehabilitate only those inmates who want to be rehabilitated. They do not succeed in requiring the convict to repair the damage done or to contribute to the welfare of society. They brand convicts in such a way that it is difficult for them to be productive citizens even if they want to.

When Bill Janklow was sentenced to jail, I thought it was a perversion of justice. He could better have used his talents and experience in helping people, rather than spending pointless hours and days behind bars. The time was wasted. As for Ted Klaudt, he has young women whose lives he can repair by working for their benefit and welfare. And he also has a family he should continue to support and provide for. Prisons are bureaucracies created for vengeance, not reparation of damaged and failed society. People in prison are not taking responsibility for what they have done.

Pat Powers at South Dakota War College notes that our laws are faulty and provide little reparative measures for victims and those who are harmed by criminal acts. There is so much work to be done.

But there is little will and even less knowledge for getting it done.

For more along this line of thought, see Dakota Today.


Todd Epp at S.D. Watch said...

Doc, glad to see you think calling a bully a bully makes one a bully. Klaudt was a piece of crap when he was before the conviction. To expect him to live in service of others after his convictions for rape is pure bleeding heart liberal fantasy.

Can we sing Kumbaya now?

David Newquist said...


Erin said...

Dr. Newq,

I think Sibby has Todd Epp's password.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States