…It only benefits the state, not the victims of crime…
We must note that the emphasis of restitution-punishment is diametrically opposite to the current practice of punishment. What happens nowadays is the following absurdity: A steals $15,000 from B. The government tracks down, tries, and convicts A, all at the expense of B, as one of the numerous taxpayers victimized in this process. Then, the government, instead of forcing A to repay B or to work at forced labor until that debt is paid, forces B, the victim, to pay taxes to support the criminal in prison for ten or twenty years’ time. Where in the world is the justice here? The victim not only loses his money, but pays more money besides for the dubious thrill of catching, convicting, and then supporting the criminal; and the criminal is still enslaved, but not to the good purpose of recompensing his victim.
The idea of primacy for restitution to the victim has great precedent in law; indeed, it is an ancient principle of law which has been allowed to wither away as the State has aggrandized and monopolized the institutions of justice. In medieval Ireland, for example, a king was not the head of State but rather a crime-insurer; if someone committed a crime, the first thing that happened was that the king paid the “insurance” benefit to the victim, and then proceeded to force the criminal to pay the king in turn (restitution to the victim’s insurance company being completely derived from the idea of restitution to the victim).
In many parts of colonial America, which were too poor to afford the dubious luxury of prisons, the thief was indentured out by the courts to his victim, there to be forced to work for his victim until his “debt” was paid. This does not necessarily mean that prisons would disappear in the libertarian society, but they would undoubtedly change drastically, since their major goal would be to force the criminals to provide restitution to their victims.
In fact, in the Middle Ages generally, restitution to the victim was the dominant concept of punishment; only as the State grew more powerful did the governmental authorities encroach ever more into the repayment process, increasingly confiscating a greater proportion of the criminal’s property for themselves, and leaving less and less to the unfortunate victim. Indeed, as the emphasis shifted from restitution to the victim, from compensation by the criminal to his victim, to punishment for alleged crimes committed “against the State,” the punishments exacted by the State became more and more severe. As the early twentieth-century criminologist William Tallack wrote,
It was chiefly owing to the violent greed of feudal barons and medieval ecclesiastical powers that the rights of the injured party were gradually infringed upon, and finally, to a large extent, appropriated by these authorities, who exacted a double vengeance, indeed, upon the offender, by forfeiting his property to themselves instead of to his victim, and then punishing him by the dungeon, the torture, the stake or the gibbet. But the original victim of wrong was practically ignored.
Or, as Professor Schafer has summed up: “As the state monopolized the institution of punishment, so the rights of the injured were slowly separated from penal law.”
“Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.” — Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776