Thinking About Criminal Justice

  • William C. HeffernanEmail author
Part of the Critical Criminological Perspectives book series (CCRP)


The term criminal justice refers to state-imposed punishment for violation of its laws. It has a distant connection to lex talionis, the eye for eye framework of grievance-redress endorsed in the Torah. Lex talionis is a code of retaliation, however. Criminal justice differs from it in two respects. First, under a just system of state-imposed punishment, sanctions may be imposed only for culpable conduct: proof that an injury occurred is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for imposing punishment. Second, just punishment may be imposed only by an impartial judge; lex talionis doesn’t require this. Given these preconditions, impartial deliberators would call on government to serve as a surrogate on behalf of its citizens. Government’s role is to vindicate rights by imposing punishment only on those who have maliciously interfered with the security rights of others.


Criminal justice Culpability Deterrence Eligibility for punishment principle Equivalent payback Fair terms of cooperation Gouldner, Alvin Grievance Impartiality Injury Jesus Justice Lex talionis Moses Negative reciprocity Obligations Proportionality Punishment Reciprocity Redressing grievances Retribution State Surrogacy theory of criminal justice Veil of ignorance Wrongdoing 

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.John Jay College of Criminal JusticeNew YorkUSA

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