C.S. Lewis made the interesting observation that there was a shift in how our culture viewed of justice. We have moved away from a traditional view of justice (retributive) to a “humanitarian” view of justice. He argued that such a move was misguided and very dangerous. In the end, it actually does away with justice and treats humans in a very inhumane manner.
The traditional view of justice is also known as the “retributive” view of justice. Here, a wrongdoing or wrong act DESERVES some kind of just punishment. A crime ought to be punished. It is right to give out penalties that fit the crime. Within this view, there is still a place and need for mercy–mercy tempers justice. This has traditionally been how we as a Western civilization have practiced and understood justice.
Now we have made shift away from this view to a “humanitarian” view of justice. Language of “punishing” criminals is viewed as vindictive and cruel and outdated. Instead, we are encouraged to treat criminals as those who need rehabilitation. A crime is not an offense against a law, but an act of a misguided psyche. The answer is not punishment, but therapy, counseling and psychological expertise.
In the end, Lewis rightly argues that such a move is an abandonment of justice. Justice is replaced with psychology, and the human subject is treated as an object to fix. Lewis argues that this actually leads to a greater cruelty toward the offender and has disastrous and dangerous consequences for the society. Instead of an offender paying the penalty which he deserves, he is treated as sub-normal and forced into a kind of required rehabilitation until the desired change takes place.
I would recommend reading Lewis’ article here.