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Are Prison Sentences Always Fair?

Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables, was found guilty of stealing bread from a local bakery. He did that to feed his seven hungry nieces and nephews.

Using what was customary at the time, in France, Victor Hugo gave his character a prison sentence of five years at hard labor. Was that a fair sentence?  Would it be a fair sentence today? Are there differences between how sentences were imposed, in the 19th century, and how they are imposed today?

Do you think that a Judge, who has the power to sentence someone to prison, should look at the circumstances behind the crime? In other words ... should Valjean’s motive to steal be considered? If so, what difference should the motive make?

Valjean received additional sentences, for many more years at hard labor, because he tried to escape.  Were those additions-to-the-sentence fair?  Why, or why not?

What can be done, in today's world, when prison sentences are unfair?


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