It used to be that the purpose of criminal punishment was to “right the wrong” that was done against an individual by another individual. Rothbard explains how your criminal overlords have decided to take the “restitution” that rightfully belongs to victims of crime for themselves.
Both the Thirteenth Amendment and the libertarian creed make the exception for the convicted criminal. The libertarian believes that a criminal loses his rights to the extent that he has aggressed upon the rights of another, and therefore that it is permissible to incarcerate the convicted criminal and subject him to involuntary servitude to that degree. In the libertarian world, however, the purpose of imprisonment and punishment will undoubtedly be different; there will be no “district attorney” who presumes to try a case on behalf of a nonexistent “society,” and then punishes the criminal on “society’s” behalf. In that world the prosecutor will always represent the individual victim, and punishment will be exacted to redound to the benefit of that victim. Thus, a crucial focus of punishment will be to force the criminal to repay – make restitution to – the victim. One such model was a practice in colonial America. Instead of incarcerating, say, a man who had robbed a farmer in the district, the criminal was coercively indentured out to the farmer – in effect, “enslaved” for a term – there to work for the farmer until his debt was repaid. Indeed, during the Middle Ages, restitution to the victim was the dominant concept of punishment. Only as the State grew more powerful did the governmental authorities – the kings and the barons – encroach more and more into the compensation process, increasingly confiscating more of the criminal’s property for themselves and neglecting the hapless victim. And as the emphasis shifted from restitution to punishment for abstract crimes “committed against the State,” the punishments exacted by the State upon the wrongdoer became more severe.
As Professor Schafer writes, “As the state monopolized the institution of punishment, so the rights of the injured were slowly separated from penal law.” Or, in the words of the turn-of-the-century criminologist William Tallack,
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.