Les Miserables as a Criminal Justice Case Study
One of the greatest books of the 19th century was Les Miserables written by Victor Hugo. It was published in 1862 and is still read to this day. Many know it best as a musical. It premiered in this form in 1980 and has run continuously in England for the past 33 years. Sadly, some know it as a movie that premiered in 2012, something that some fans of the story would like to forget.
The Timeless Story:
The main storyline is the struggle between Jean Valjean and Javert. Spanning decades, the story tracks Valjean’s development from a thief and subsequent prisoner into a wealthy, generous benefactor and kind, loving guardian. Javert was an officer of the prison in which Valjean was held and later became a law enforcement officer.
The story does an excellent job of showing how a man can be transformed and how the entire course of his life can change. This is what happens to Valjean. Yes, he committed crimes right after gaining his freedom. Yes, he even evaded law enforcement at one point. The story shows you, however, how someone can be changed.
Javert, meanwhile, holds fast to the rule of law. There is right and there is wrong, and very little, if anything, exists in between.
By the rule of law, Javert has every right to arrest Valjean throughout the story. As Valjean ages, though, he becomes so kind and generous and does so much good for the society around him.
In the end, Valjean has the chance for revenge and to take Javert’s life. He doesn’t. He lets him go instead. Javert’s guilt at this act leads him to commit suicide.
The Timeless Application:
Why give a synopsis of that story, especially when most people know it already? Because no matter when you read it – whether it’s 1862, 1962, or 2062 – everyone can relate to the principles of it. Valjean was a criminal. The ends do not justify the means; despite the good he did, he broke many laws and deserved a just punishment for them.
Javert was the man to provide justice. However, if the point of justice is reform, a strong case could be made that Valjean had reformed. Javert’s lifelong efforts, then, to punish Valjean took him out of balance, which was a major reason for the way his life ended.
All of this leads one to ask: In the context of the criminal justice system, what is the point? What is the right amount of punishment to seek from any criminal?
Some misdemeanors carry nothing more than a fine. Sometimes, there is probation or even a prison sentence.
Felons know that bigger crimes carry stronger penalties. Loss of rights may include a ban from owning guns, an inability to vote, or restrictions on where they can live. On top of that, the label “felon” is extremely stigmatizing.
Most felons are not able to “acquire” the kind of wealth that Valjean does, and therefore their struggle is harder. What avenues, then, do felons have to find the right balance when they are ready to demonstrate that they are reformed? This will be discussed in next week’s post.
In the meantime, if you are facing felony charges, you need an attorney who will help you explore all of your options. It is worth it to hire an attorney. Call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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