Punishment

Chinese Punishment, Whipping A Lawbreaker [c1900] Attribution Unk [RESTORED]I recently read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education called “In Defense of Flogging” by Peter Moskos, a former police officer and now a criminologist at the City University of New York (specifically at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice).

The article seems to have been written to gin up interest in a book he has coming out in June called, well, In Defense of Flogging.

Without further ado, an excerpt:

For most of the past two centuries, at least in so‐called civilized societies, the ideal of punishment has been replaced by the hope of rehabilitation. The American penitentiary system was invented to replace punishment with “cure.” Prisons were built around the noble ideas of rehabilitation. In society, at least in liberal society, we’re supposed to be above punishment, as if punishment were somehow beneath us. The fact that prisons proved both inhumane and miserably ineffective did little to deter the utopian enthusiasm of those reformers who wished to abolish punishment.

Incarceration, for adults as well as children, does little but make people more criminal. Alas, so successful were the “progressive” reformers of the past two centuries that today we don’t have a system designed for punishment. Certainly released prisoners need help with life—jobs, housing, health care—but what they don’t need is a failed concept of “rehabilitation.” Prisons today have all but abandoned rehabilitative ideals—which isn’t such a bad thing if one sees the notion as nothing more than paternalistic hogwash. All that is left is punishment, and we certainly could punish in a way that is much cheaper, honest, and even more humane. We could flog.

Yes. He just argued for flogging as a more enlightened view than imprisonment.

Pause for a moment to let your brain adjust to that.

Troubled? Get ready — he’s about to own you.

The opening gambit of the book is surprisingly simple: If you were sentenced to five years in prison but had the option of receiving lashes instead, what would you choose? You would probably pick flogging. Wouldn’t we all?

I propose we give convicts the choice of the lash at the rate of two lashes per year of incarceration. One cannot reasonably argue that merely offering this choice is somehow cruel, especially when the status quo of incarceration remains an option. Prison means losing a part of your life and everything you care for. Compared with this, flogging is just a few very painful strokes on the backside. And it’s over in a few minutes. Often, and often very quickly, those who said flogging is too cruel to even consider suddenly say that flogging isn’t cruel enough.

I found the article fascinating and have been telling people about it since I read it. And I’ve asked them if they would personally prefer flogging to prison. Everyone I have posed the question to has opted for excruciating physical pain.

I’ve long been fascinated by the different notions of justice. I remember hearing Jim Railey argue quite convincingly in seminary that the proper Christian notion of justice is primarily retributive (punishment‐oriented) rather than rehabilitative. Not that Christians are opposed to rehabilitation — but we ought to think of rehabilitation as a function of mercy and not of justice. Perhaps sometimes we should pursue mercy instead of justice, and other times we should offer mercy following justice. But we shouldn’t pretend that they are identical.

Incidentally, if you conceive of justice in purely rehabilitative terms then you probably can’t believe in hell or in capital punishment. If, on the other hand, you believe that justice is essentially retributive then both are viable intellectual options for you.

Agree with Dr. Moskos or not, you should at least read the whole article. There’s way more than I’ve quoted here. I should also note that he doesn’t seem to be seriously arguing for flogging itself so much as he is arguing for fixing our broken criminal justice system. Consider his conclusion:

…how can offering criminals the choice of the lash in lieu of incarceration be so bad? If flogging were really worse than prison, nobody would choose it. Of course most people would choose the rattan cane over the prison cell. And that’s my point. Faced with the choice between hard time and the lash, the lash is better. What does that say about prison?

All in all, a phenomenal essay.

On a related note, you should read my thoughts on the pervasive insanity of professors.

81 thoughts on “Punishment”

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