I am often appalled by how sadistically Americans and people of other nations regard their criminals. I am appalled because that very sadism itself reduces people to the level of evil as the people we punish. But how does one go about confronting the absolutely wicked notion that because we dislike a persons behavior we should inflict pain on that person thereby perpetuating the evil. Perhaps it can be argued that on utilitarian grounds that some evil should be permitted if it allows less evil to result in total. But that seems to go against the instinct that their is something immoral about being the author of an evil action even if the ends supposedly justify the means. It seems like an ethical system that acknowledges the truth that punishment is nothing more than a perpetuation of evil is utterly impotent. Is there any way at all to resolve this fundamental contradiction between morality and reality?

There are a variety of ways of justifying punishment, not all utilitarian, and some would argue that punishing a criminal respects him or her since we apply a sanction to them which to some degree matches the crime. It is only sadistic if we enjoy their suffering, and surely most members of the public do not, especially as it is very expensive to incarcerate criminals. On your measure, causing any suffering at all is to bring about evil, and this is implausible. Sometimes offenders have to be brought face to face with the nature of their actions by punishing them, and they may reform or they may not, but they are not punished to make them suffer per se. The way in which this topic was described suggests that all punishment is evil, and we can easily think of cases where this is implausible.

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