The Aresan Clan is published four times a week (Tue, Wed, Fri, Sun). You can see what's been written so far collected here. All posts will be posted under the Aresan Clan label. For summaries of the events so far, visit here. See my previous serial Vampire Wares collected here.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Punishment via prison or Flogging?

An intriguing idea in Peter Moskos new book In Defense of Flogging, namely that flogging is a better idea than prison in many cases. He defends the idea in a recent interview, and Matt Welch at Reason is intrigued by the idea.

The basic idea is that prison is a bad idea for most criminals by whatever standard you use. If you believe in a retributive theory of punishment then you must admit that prison is very expensive expensive way of punishing people for their crimes and that there are simpler and cheaper solutions — financial penalties and physical punishment are just as retributive and a whole lot cheaper. if you abide by a rehabilitative theory of punishment, then prison is a horrible idea. Prison has a poor track record of rehabilitating prisoners and much more frequently makes people more likely to engage in future criminal activity. The last thing you want to do to help someone is to lock them up with a bunch of hardened criminals.

The only people you really want to lock up are people who are a danger to society. It makes sense to lock up Charles Manson, BTK and the Son of Sam, but not so much someone incarcerated for marijuana possession, or for that matter Bernie Madoff and Martha Stewart. Prison is expensive and thus the taxpayers, who have no culpability in these crimes are punished.

Moskos asks "Given the choice between five years and ten lashes, wouldn’t you choose the lash?" to which I'd say definitely yes. Give the problems of rampant overcrowding, prison violence and pervasive rape I'd say prison is a horrible place to go and I'd gladly endure the pain of flogging to avoid prison.

I wouldn't go out and say that flogging is necessarily the best form of non-prison punishment. Fines, for one, make sense in many cases, such as drug possession and financial and property crimes; damage to reputation is an under appreciated punishment (think for example of stockades, or a highly visible letter sewed on someone's clothing, a la The Scarlet Letter, or a swastika carved in someone's forehead a la Inglorious Basterds); people can be monitored and tracked for much cheaper than imprisonment; and perhaps other forms of physical punishment might be better. The best solutions for each case would require some careful thought (hmm, what about branding people on their arm for certain crimes?). But what is obvious is that prison is simply not a good idea for many of the crimes for which it is applied.

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