Sanctions vs. Sentences

To be sure a “sanction” is a penalty for wrongdoing. The UN imposes sanctions on countries for committing international crimes. But a sanction is also an authorization. A government agency may sanction actions it deems productive or safe. Restorative justice adopts both definitions of the term, like two sides of the same coin. 

A “sentence” offers no such duality. True, a person sentenced for a crime may as a result avoid a similar offense in the future. But sanctions, whether international or personal, improve behavior. They educate. While both are consequences, sanctions, in their pursuit and certainly in their completion, inspire approval, from oneself and from the community. Sentences attempt to correct antisocial behavior, but they just as equally condemn people for those actions.

Nothing hampers a teen’s ability to learn like condemnation. Sanctions in the mind of a teen, on the other hand, are justified. They feel like the appropriate way to make up for wrongdoing. Sentences threaten to consign kids to negative labels they many never overcome. A sanction allows the student to move on responsibly, not just to avoid repressive labels, but to triumph over them. Sanctions transcend mere punishment and instead authorize personal responsibility, growth and, most of all, renewal.

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