How Should People Who Commit Crimes be Treated?

(ב) וְהָיָ֛ה אִם־בִּ֥ן הַכּ֖וֹת הָרָשָׁ֑ע וְהִפִּיל֤וֹ הַשֹּׁפֵט֙ וְהִכָּ֣הוּ לְפָנָ֔יו כְּדֵ֥י רִשְׁעָת֖וֹ בְּמִסְפָּֽר׃ (ג) אַרְבָּעִ֥ים יַכֶּ֖נּוּ לֹ֣א יֹסִ֑יף פֶּן־יֹסִ֨יף לְהַכֹּת֤וֹ עַל־אֵ֙לֶּה֙ מַכָּ֣ה רַבָּ֔ה וְנִקְלָ֥ה אָחִ֖יךָ לְעֵינֶֽיךָ׃

(2) If the wicked one is to be flogged, the magistrate shall have him lie down and be given lashes in his presence, by count, as his guilt warrants. (3) He may be given up to forty lashes, but not more, lest being flogged further, to excess, your brother be degraded before your eyes.

Sifrei Ki Tetze Piska 286

“Your brother will be degraded before your eyes.” From the moment he is flogged, he is your brother. . . Rabbi Chananya ben Gamliel said, “all day, the text calls him ‘wicked,’ as it says ‘if the wicked person is subject to lashes’ (Deuteronomy 25:2). But from the time that he is flogged, the text calls him ‘your brother.’

Maimonides Hilkhot Rotzeach Ushmirat Hanefesh 2:5

In the case of all of these murderers and such… if the king did not kill them, and the hour did not demand this, the court is obligated, in any case, to punish them with a serious punishment, close to death, and to confine them in a small and narrow place for many years, and to afflict them with all sorts of afflictions in order to instill fear in other wicked people, so that the incident will not become an obstacle or a stumbling block, such that another person will say “I will bring about the death of my enemy as so-and-so did, and I will go free.”

Maimonides Laws of Repentance 1:4

Even though teshuvah [repentance] atones for all [sins] and the essence of Yom Kippur brings atonement, [there are different levels of sin and hence, differences in the degree of atonement.] There are sins that can be atoned for immediately and other sins which can only be atoned for over the course of time. What is implied?

If a person violates a "thou shalt command" which is not punishable by banishment [a minor offense] and repents, when he leaves [after punishment and repentance] he is forgiven. Concerning these sins [Jeremiah 3:22] states: "Return, faithless children! I will heal your rebellious acts." If a person violates a "thou shalt not command" that is not punishable by banishment or execution by the court [a more serious but still minor offense] and repents, teshuvah has a tentative effect and Yom Kippur brings atonement as [Leviticus, loc. cit. states "This day will atone for you."

If a person violates [sins punishable by] banishment or execution by the court and repents [major offenses], teshuvah and Yom Kippur have a tentative effect and the sufferings which come upon him complete the atonement. He will never achieve complete atonement until he endures suffering for concerning these [sins, Psalms 89:33] states: "I will punish their transgression with a rod."

Maimonides Laws of Repentance 1:10

It is forbidden for a person to be cruel and refuse to be appeased. Rather, he should be easily pacified, but hard to anger. When the person who wronged him asks for forgiveness, he should forgive him with a complete heart and a willing spirit. Even if he aggravated and wronged him severely, he should not seek revenge or bear a grudge.

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (New York: The New Press, 2012) 94

Once a person has been labeled a felon, he or she is ushered into a parallel universe in which discrimination, stigma, and exclusion are perfectly legal... It does not matter whether you have actually spent time in prison; your second-class citizenship begins the moment you are branded a felon. Most people branded felons, in fact, are not sentenced to prison. As of 2008, there were approximately 2.3 million people in prisons and jails, and a staggering 5.1 million people under “community correctional supervision”—i.e., on probation or parole. . . For drug felons, there is little chance of escape. Barred from public housing by law, discriminated against by private landlords, ineligible for food stamps, forced to “check the box” indicating a felony conviction on employment applications for nearly every job, and denied licenses for a wide range of professions, people whose only crime is drug addiction or possession of a small amount of drugs for recreational use find themselves locked out of the mainstream society and economy—permanently. No wonder, then, that most people labeled felons find their way back into prison. According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics study, about 30 percent of released prisoners in its sample were rearrested within six months of release. Within three years, nearly 68 percent were rearrested at least once for a new offense. Only a small minority are rearrested for violent crimes; the vast majority are rearrested for property offenses, drug offenses, and offenses against the public order. Probationers and parolees are at increased risk of arrest because their lives are governed by additional rules that do not apply to everyone else. Myriad restrictions on their travel and behavior (such as a prohibition on associating with other felons), as well as various requirements of probation and parole (such as paying fines and meeting with probation officers), create opportunities for arrest. . . About as many people were returned to prison for parole violations in 2000 as were admitted to prison in 1980 for all reasons. . . If you fail, after being released from prison with a criminal record—your personal badge of inferiority—to remain drug free, or if you fail to get a job against all the odds, or if you get depressed and miss an appointment with your parole officer (or if you cannot afford the bus fare to take you there), you can be sent right back to prison.

Does a Prison Cell Need a Mezuzah?

1. Rabbi Isaac Jacob Weiss, Minchat Yitzchak (Poland/Israel, 1902-1989) says:

(Referring to discussion in Birkei Yosef [Haim David Azulai, Jerusalem 1724-1806]) Beit Hillel wrote that a prison is exempt from mezuzah because it is not an honorable place. And the Birkei Yosef rejected this reason, and wrote also that it’s exempt, that even though people stay there steadily for months, and even though there is no danger or disgrace there, since these places are made to be temporary dwellings, and not permanent ones, and therefore are like a house built on a ship.

2. R. Ben Zion Meir Chai Uzziel, Piskei Uzziel B’she’elot haZman 30 (Palestine/Israel 1880- 1953) says:

In my opinion, it seems that there is no debate (about whether there should be mezuzot in Israeli prisons). For even if the prisoners are exempt from mezuzah for the reasons stated above, the state itself is obligated to put up a mezuzah since it places Jews to dwell in these places.