Do We Want To Punish Or Rehabilitate?


When do we quit casting stones?
The recent hiring -- and removal -- of convicted murderer James Hamm as a law school instructor at Arizona State University raises fundamental questions about what we expect our system of justice to achieve. Do we want to punish criminals for their offensive behavior, or do we want to rehabilitate them into responsible citizens?

Hamm, 50, pleaded guilty in 1974 to a murder charge in the shooting death of a man during a drug deal in Tucson. Hamm was reportedly a teen-ager when the crime occurred. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

He was paroled in 1992, and has since earned a bachelor's degree from Northern Arizona University and a law degree from ASU. He has yet to pass the state bar exam.

ASU hired Hamm to teach two undergraduate criminal justice classes for the spring semester just days before the classes otherwise would have been canceled because there was no instructor, school officials said. Under a storm of protest, the school backed off from its decision to have Hamm teach.

There's little question that Hamm is repentant and rehabilitated. We should wish as much for all of those convicted. Our prisons would be largely empty, instead of packed with criminals who break the law again after being released.

At what point do we say to someone like Hamm, "We are ready to welcome you back fully into our community?" Can a murderer ever be forgiven?

The Christian values that you have seen so adamantly expressed regarding Bible Week in letters to the editor of the Roundup would suggest that Hamm be given the opportunity to teach and to contribute to society.

We believe this should be the case when an individual has clearly shown his desire to become a responsible, law-abiding citizen. Hamm has paid his debt to the justice system and has redirected the course of his life.

He should not be punished for that.

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