This post may surprise you. It's not about Obama. It's not about the election. It's my own philosophy on crime and punishment and you might not agree with me. I welcome comments because my own feelings and opinions on this are far from clear. I disagree with the way we run prisons. I think they are misguided terrible places which may deter crime somewhat, but at a terrible cost. After taking some time and really considering things, I've changed my opinion on the death penalty as well. I used to be in favor of it, but I no longer am—for several reasons:
- It's not a punishment—My definition of punishment corresponds to the definition used by behavioral psychologists within the context of operant conditioning. The purpose of punishment is to train the offender in order to eliminate undesirable behavior in the future. It is not possible to train a dead offender. Logically, if punishment ends in death it cannot be called punishment. The other definition of punishment—which I absolutely refute—is retribution or revenge. This is done, not to improve the behavior of the offender, but to make the victim feel vindicated. Not only do two wrongs not make a right, but I would argue that this idea is—or should be—antithetical to our American moral framework. It's certainly not what we teach our children. Jimmy, if Tommy throws a rock through your mom's window, is it okay for you to throw a rock through his mom's window? Every kindergartener knows the answer to this. And if they don't, we will promptly set them straight!
- The death-penalty is not cost effective—The cost of appeals and state appointed council for the defendant costs much more than a life-time in prison costs.
- It weakens the moral argument against abortion—of all the charges the liberal-left continually levels against us, the one that is most damaging is hypocrisy. We should be pro-life. Period.
- The death-row inmate might really be innocent—This is the greatest injustice of them all and the possibility of this outcome should rightly terrify any person with the slightest shred of goodness or decency.
- States without death penalty have lower murder rates
- Does Death-Penalty Deter Murder?
- Death Penalty Deters Murder
- Does the Death Penalty Save Lives?
- ProConOrg Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime?
In order to deter someone who is considering the commission of a crime from even entertaining the possibility, society makes an extreme example of the offenders who are caught. They are necessarily punished far beyond the scope of their crime. I would argue that if you believe it should be like this, then the society where you belong is the same one where they cut off hands for shoplifting. Justice should be about righting wrongs not committing more of them.
If prison is punishment and if the purpose of punishment is to train offenders not to commit crimes in the future, then why do so many recidivists return to prison? Who commits a higher percentage of crimes, criminals or the population in general? I would argue that you're much less safe when in the company of ex-cons, and the statistics seem to back that up:
- During 2007, a total of 1,180,469 persons on parole were at-risk of reincarceration. This includes persons under parole supervision on January 1 or those entering parole during the year. Of these parolees, about 16% were returned to incarceration in 2007.
- Among nearly 300,000 prisoners released in 15 states in 1994, 67.5% were rearrested within 3 years. A study of prisoners released in 1983 estimated 62.5%. Of the 272,111 persons released from prisons in 15 states in 1994, an estimated 67.5% were rearrested for a felony or serious misdemeanor within 3 years, 46.9% were reconvicted, and 25.4% resentenced to prison for a new crime.
- These offenders had accumulated 4.1 million arrest charges before their most recent imprisonment and another 744,000 charges within 3 years of release. Released prisoners with the highest rearrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%).
- Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide.
If I was a warden:
If I was a warden I would only accept being a warden at a prison that met my expectations from the ground up. I would demand it be built according to strict specifications which absolutely precluded any semblance of inmate privacy whatsoever. Cameras and microphones would be built into every surface. I'd use sophisticated AI software like that found at AIsight. This type of software is still in its infancy, but even so it would allow the automated monitoring of many thousands of cameras—which I consider absolutely necessary if a prison is to successfully rehabilitate its inmates.
If I was a warden I would have different rules. I'd have cramped cells and spacious ones. I'd have tasty food and disgusting food. Every day would be a new opportunity to achieve rewards and to incur punishments. I'd break apart and discourage all the usual groupings that we find in prisons. Not just gangs, but also groupings according to race, according to weaknesses and strengths, intelligence and stupidity. My goal would be instilling absolute obedience not through fear of punishment or even desire for reward, but through a gradual process of rewiring, reframing, and recoding the prisoners’ perceptions, biases, predictions, and assumptions. The goal would be to train the inmates to do what is right not because of consequences but simply because it is the right thing to do. We call this a moral framework and I would argue that most felons either lack one, or have one that is badly warped.
The way we do things is so stupid in prison. A typical first day finds a new prisoner threatened by practically everyone and made to feel terror beyond belief. We don't stand for this behavior in school. We know how counterproductive it is, yet oddly, we accept it in prison because supposedly this is how punishment is supposed to work? A new inmate is already afraid for his life in this very new place and the first thing everyone does is see if they can make him cry. This is wrong and if you don't see that, I'd like to hear some reason beyond that he deserves to be tortured because of what he did. Maybe he does deserve to be tortured, but that's not how we do things here in America. That's how they do them in those last bastions of barbarism on the other side of the world.
The horrible behavior in prison, the beatings, the rapes, and the bullying and constant fear are by definition cruel and unusual punishment, and as such unconstitutional. But even worse, this horrible suffering by some inmates only happens to the weaker ones. Allowing the stronger inmates to tyrannize the weaker ones acts as a kind of reward to the stronger ones. It provides a sick reinforcing effect on them such that they will upon release be even more likely to commit violent crimes than when they went in.
Maybe you think we don't have the money to implement the kind of prisons which would be successful? Maybe it is cheaper to keep catching and releasing our institutional convicts over and over. It's cheaper for the taxpayers maybe, but is it cheaper for the victims? Would our money be better spent on a half-billion dollar failed solar-panel manufacturer?
One final thought and you can take this for humor but when you think about it, you'll realize it's not funny after all. The fact that liberals oppose the death-penalty is an idiosyncrasy. We are pro-life and liberals are pro-death. In every case in every dispute, liberals oppose human life and support death.
Abortion is obviously pro-death. Homosexuality is anti-family, anti-reproductive and if allowed to dominate the world culture, would ultimately result in the extinction of the human race. Redistribution of wealth is anti-business, anti-growth and always ultimately results in famine and mass death. USSR, China anyone? Save the whales, save the Antarctic, save the grass-hoppers and save the beavers. Organic farming to save the insects—hurrah? Famine and Death! Affirmative action and welfare lead to ghettoes, drugs, prostitution, gambling, gangs, and murder—lots and lots of murder. Which leads to the death-penalty—which for some reason liberals oppose? It makes no sense, and if conservatives suddenly decided to oppose the death-penalty, liberals would feel duty bound to support it, thus squaring that final skewed corner.