Monday, June 27, 2011

Should flogging be revived?

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.



Rev. Paul said...

This is an interesting proposal. You and Mr. Moskos lend credence to the concept as it is proposed.

Much thought is required, but - perhaps - it's not a bad idea.

Bob said...

If it was instituted, you'd have to track recidivism statistics carefully to see if it was effective. If it's not effective in reducing recidivism, there's no reason other than schadenfreude to continue it. Right offhand I suspect it won't deter hardened criminals; it might deter those people that fall into the justice system for stupidity, such as first-time DUI offenders or someone who get into a bar fight and causes a major injury.

Themadlemming said...

I agree with Bob. I think, if anything, it works in the favor of hardened criminals who may think "I can survive a lashing, heal up, and have another go at the crime in question". Perhaps it should be offered to first time offenders and serial criminals automatically get prison?

Wayne Conrad said...

I'd rather have fewer prisoners than have alternate punishments for the ones we've got.

Shrimp said...

Peter, I'd be interested to hear what you think of our current prison system, as far as its harshness. Do you believe it to be harsh, barbaric, cruel or inhumane? Especially compared to other countries' prisons.

The reason I ask, I read an article (somewhere online, don't remember where at the moment) where Amnesty International was calling for two individuals to be released from their "extraordinarily inhumane"( or words to that effect) incarceration because they were being held in isolation from other prisoners. Basically, they spent 23 hours of the day in a cell, and were let out only for 1 hour each day to exercise, etc.

To me, that is what prison should be like, all the time, for everyone that goes there. Locked in the cell for 23 out of 24 hours. There should be no TV, no internet access, no weight rooms, no nothing! If they so desire, they may volunteer for work details (laundry, maintainence, kitchen, etc) or earn credits towards time in the library or education center.

For those that actually behave and volunteer for work detail, they get to spend an additional amount of time outside the cell (in addition to their time out of the cell while at work) as long as they are behaving.

To me, that system would certainly be better than one that coddles criminals, trains them in furthering their criminal career by exchanging ideas, or in general wastes taxpayer money to create a better "educated" criminal class with bigger muscles. Seriously, the idea of a weight room in a prison has to be the dumbest idea I have ever heard of, yet no one seems to argue it.

Just curious as to your perspective.

Dave H said...

I'm in favor of alternate punishments because prison isn't doing the job in too many cases. But flogging? I don't know. People do some pretty nasty things to themselves in the name of gang membership, spirituality, and just generally being freaky. Doesn't seem like much of a deterrent for everybody.

Now castration, on the other hand...

campbell76209 said...

We've got to think and do some thing different. Maybe wardens should have substantial punishment options to keep prisons under control. It is ridiculous the prisoners/gangs are running the prisons. Cut someone and get 25 lashes? How about 2 days in the hotbox - that would be pretty rough in Texas!


Chris said...

For repeat offenders, make the number of Lashings cumulative.

trailbee said...

Female here: I do believe that first timers should be given that choice. I'm not so sure that second and third-time offenders deserve it (the option). First timers are so at risk from sexual attack, that this option would empower them at a time when they feel most powerless. It would be interesting to track flogged first-timers vs unflogged, for recidivism.