Time To Bring Back Public Whippings! (Or, Maybe, Not)

We’re pampering our prisoners
We’re treating them like guests
Instead of just ignoring them
We honor their requests

Free food, a bed, and exercise,
We cater to their needs
When what they’ve earned is punishment
It’s harshness that succeeds

No coddling them with training,
Cos they’ll never get a job
No need for education,
Cos a slob remains a slob

No TV time, no DVDs,
No books upon the shelves
These thugs want entertainment?
Let them work it out themselves

Let’s lock them in a tiny cell
And throw away the key
Unless it hurts, it really isn’t
Punishment, to me

We’ll show them, in the clearest terms,
What vengeance is about…
I wonder how they’ll thank us
When it’s time to let them out

You’ve probably all heard by now, Ariel Castro was found dead, having apparently hanged himself. As the poster child for horrible and criminal behavior, you’ll have to search a ways before you’ll find anyone mourning his death. Well, aside from those wishing he was still alive so that he could be dying more slowly; those voices are easy to hear.

And even at NPR, where accusations of liberal bias (in reporting and in commenting) are commonplace, the commenters are currently bemoaning the conditions of our prisons, arguing that they need to be harsher, more punishing, so that they do the job they were supposed to do and prevent crime rehabilitate offenders punish evildoers.

These commenters are wrong. You want the most successful prisons, in terms of low recidivism rates, low operating cost, and successful integration of inmates into society when their sentences are up? Let’s compare the US and Norway.

But of course, those are horrible measures of prisoner effectiveness if the real goal of a prison is to assign moral responsibility and punish wicked people. (Or to make money.) I have asked audiences which hypothetical they would choose, a simple procedure that would make certain a criminal would never commit a crime again, and would instead be a productive member of society, or a procedure that would punish that criminal harshly, with no effect on future behavior. A strong majority go for the punishment. (BTW, a strong case can be made that this is a holdover from religious thinking during the Reformation–the blossoming of the prescientific notion of freely chosen, morally culpable behavior. We can’t prevent it, cos it’s freely chosen, but we can and should punish the morally responsible actor, regardless of whether that punishment decreases crime.)

And with Ariel Castro as the poster child, there will be no one, or very few, arguing that our prisons are already too harsh for society’s good, that an overhaul of the system would be hugely beneficial (especially for non-privileged groups). Differential arrests, convictions, and sentences by race? No time for that, there’s a monster in Cleveland who deserves harsher punishment! We would rather punish after the fact than make our streets safer before. We would rather pay for prisons than schools and scholarships. We would rather blame a handful of criminals after the fact, than our own failure to improve society beforehand.

It’s so much easier.


  1. says

    He was kept in solitary confinement, under (supposedly) constant video surveillance, in a cell with recessed lighting, a bed bolted to the floor, and no wall or door for the toilet. When he needed toilet paper, he had to ask for it, and he got only what he needed at the moment.

    How could he have hanged himself?

    Assuming he used his pants, he would have had to tied one leg around the bars of his cell door, one around his neck, and then away from the door until he asphyxiated. That would take a long time. None of the guards noticed? Yeah, right. “Suicide.”

    Anyway, the courts have long held that, under the no cruel or unusual punishment, the state is responsible for the health and well-being of prisoners. You cannot underfeed them. You cannot freeze them. You cannot bake them. You cannot deprive them of water, medicine or other necessities for physical and mental health. You cannot let them suffer from preventable disease. It is unbelievable that people would think otherwise.

  2. says

    Solitary itself is torture, and the worst kind even, which is why it’s morally hypocritical in the extreme for solitary to be used on anyone ever:


    USA is a nation of savage hypocritical nosy bullshit artists who like to torture people and pretend it’s not torture, gawd BLESS MURIKA!!!


  3. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Meh, a good public whipping never hurt anyone.

  4. Cuttlefish says

    Delft, I don’t know the god-belief status of my audience, so I can’t answer that.

    …on the other hand, I can attest that not all the atheists I know are rational…

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