.Your Letters, Week of Jan. 25

Roman Rules

America can learn from ancient Rome how to better deal with crime today.

Because democracy generally values all human beings, democratic Rome’s criminal statutes were not designed to repress, but quickly judge and inexpensively rehabilitate. For that reason, Rome did not use prisons, except as places of detention before trial.

One historian of early and middle Roman law summarizes: “Penalties were either pecuniary or they were capital. There was nothing else.” But capital punishment was seldom utilized, because the law provided for an alternative way out of society—exile.

After the emperors overthrew democracy, penalties multiplied in variety and savagery. The convict could be sentenced to hard labor, usually in the mines, or to life as a gladiator, which eventually brought death.

Courts had discretion to inflict arbitrary, even savage, punishments like flogging, crucifixion, burning, walling up alive and feeding the felon to the circus lions.

In all this, a person possessing common sense can see two great lessons.

First, the country might want to return to the early practice of dealing with crime expeditiously and humanely, before penitentiaries became all the rage.

Second, America must by any legal means necessary prevent its governors and presidents from becoming kings and emperors and inflicting whatever damage they want on others.

Kimball Shinkoskey

Wood Cross, UT


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