By James Alan Fox

In debates about punishment, whether focused on the death penalty or adult sentences for juvenile offenders, I often get asked how I’d feel if it were my loved one–my wife or my child–who was murdered. Sometimes the question is posed in a respectfully polite way, as in a comment to my recent posting on juvenile life without parole. Yet occasionally there is a more threatening undertone accompanied by the suggestion that people like me are what’s wrong with the criminal justice system.

I can tell you with complete certainty that my response to such a “God forbid” event would be emotional, irrational, and extreme. My impulse, although a controllable one, would be to want vengeance. However, for the most part, it is not relevant how I would feel and what I would wish for under such a devastating hypothetical.

Isn’t it ironic that those who clamor for stiffer penalties are rarely asked if they would feel any differently were it their child who was accused of murder?