Jon'a F. Meyer
With all the attention recently paid to restorative justice initiatives such as restitution and victim-offender mediation, it is easy to lose sight of retributive justice—one of the least understood foundations of justice. Some individuals mistakenly believe that retribution, also known as “just deserts” or lex talionis justifies any penalty, no matter how severe. This is not true; the philosophy behind retribution is more complex than the simple notion of punishing individuals harshly because severe punishments are available. Retribution has been around for millennia. It predates the birth of Christ by at least 2000 years, as retributive elements appear alongside restorative principles in law codes from the ancient Near East, including the Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2050 BCE), the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 BCE), and the better-known Babylonian Code of Hammurabi (c. 1700 BCE). In these legal systems, crimes were considered violations of other people's rights. Victims were to be ...