TIME magazine has an interesting article on the potential revival of flogging as a punishment for crime. Here's an excerpt.
Peter Moskos' In Defense of Flogging might seem like a satire — akin to Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal," an essay advocating the eating of children — but it is as serious as a wooden stick lashing into a blood-splattered back.
Despite what you may think, Moskos is not pushing flogging as part of a "get tougher on criminals" campaign. In fact Moskos, who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, begins not by arguing that the justice system is too soft on criminals, but the opposite. So before you accuse him of advocating a cruel and unusual form of punishment, he offers this reminder: in the U.S., there are 2.3 million inmates incarcerated in barbaric conditions. American prisons are bleak and violent, and sexual assault is rampant.
And, Moskos points out, imprisonment is not just cruel — it is ineffective. The original idea for the penitentiary was that criminals would become penitent and turn away from their lives of crime. Today, prisons are criminogenic — they help train inmates in how to commit crimes on release.
Flogging, Moskos argues, is an appealing alternative. Why not give convicts a choice, he says: let them substitute flogging for imprisonment under a formula of two lashes for every year of their sentence.
There would, he says, be advantages all around. Convicts would be able to replace soul-crushing years behind bars with intense but short-lived physical pain. When the flogging was over, they could get on with their lives. For those who say flogging is too cruel, Moskos has a simple retort: it would only be imposed if the convicts themselves chose it.
At the same time, Moskos says, society would benefit. Under his proposal, the most dangerous criminals would not be eligible for flogging; the worst offenders, including serial killers and child molesters, would still be locked up and kept off the streets. But even so, he guesses the prison population could decline from 2.3 million to 300,000. That would free up much of the $60 billion or more the U.S. spends on prisons for more socially useful purposes.
There's more at the link. There's a longer article by Mr. Moskos himself here, and his Web site contains more information about his book, including an excerpt. Here's a video clip from CNN where he's interviewed on the subject.
I've been thinking about Mr. Moskos' arguments for most of today, and I really can't see a downside to them. Of course, this is colored by my having been born and raised in Africa, where flogging was an entirely legal sentence that could be imposed by the courts, whether the convict liked it or not. (It still is, in some African nations.) I disagreed strongly with that approach, and still do, because it could (and sometimes did) lead to institutionalized, legally sanctioned sadism; but Mr. Moskos' approach, where the convict him- or herself makes the decision about flogging versus incarceration, changes that dynamic, I think.
What say you, readers? Let us know your thoughts in Comments.