penitent | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Corrections

A penitent is a person who repents of wrongdoing and asks for forgiveness.

This is closely related to the idea of a penitentiary.

The concept of a penitent, or a person who repents of wrongdoing and asks for forgiveness, has been an important aspect of many religious and philosophical traditions throughout history. The idea of seeking forgiveness and making amends for one’s actions is seen as a way to achieve spiritual or moral redemption and to move towards a better, more virtuous way of living.

The term penitentiary is derived from the same root as “penitent” and refers to a type of correctional facility that is designed to provide a space for individuals to reflect on their actions and seek redemption for their past mistakes. The idea behind the penitentiary is that by providing a space for individuals to reflect on their actions and seek forgiveness, they can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society as productive, law-abiding citizens.

The first modern penitentiary was established in Philadelphia in 1829 and was known as the Eastern State Penitentiary. This facility was designed to be a place of penitence, where inmates would be kept in solitary confinement and given ample time for reflection and self-examination. The hope was that by providing a space for inmates to confront their own wrongdoing and seek forgiveness, they could be rehabilitated and reformed.

Over time, the concept of the penitentiary has evolved, and today’s correctional facilities often focus more on punishment and containment than on rehabilitation and redemption. However, the idea of the penitent as someone who seeks forgiveness and takes responsibility for their actions remains an important concept in many religious and philosophical traditions.

In the context of the criminal justice system, the concept of the penitent is often closely linked to the idea of restorative justice. Restorative justice is a model of justice that focuses on repairing the harm that has been done by criminal behavior rather than simply punishing the offender. This model emphasizes the importance of accountability, empathy, and community involvement and seeks to help offenders understand the impact of their actions on others and take steps to make amends.

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Last Modified: 04/23/2023

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