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Corporate Hippie
08-18-2005, 03:01 PM
I'm wondering what people think the reasoning is, or ought to be, for punishing criminals. Is there a difference between why we do it and why most people think we do it? How have our reasons changed over time?

(I'm thinking of the U.S. here, but I'm interested in hearing about other countries as well. I'm also mainly referring to prison sentences because I don't particularly want to harp on the death penalty, but the question is by no means restricted to that.)

Here are 4 general purposes for criminal incarceration in America that I could think of:

- Retribution - Giving the criminals what they deserve. I would say that "an eye for an eye" was the definition of justice for a long time, and that it's still a prevalent sentiment today. That seems to me like a completely emotional reaction, but if it is, is that acceptable? It makes me uneasy to think of the judicial system functioning in essence to satisfy the vengeance of citizens, but could we function as a society without that satisfaction?

- Isolation - Keeping the criminals away from the general public. Out of the reasons I came up with, this strikes me as the most pure in a logical sense. In order to maintain order in a society, the criminal element needs to be removed for the protection of the rest of the citizens. However, is this more for our protection or for our peace of mind?

- Deterrence - Making other criminals or potential criminals think twice. I think this is more effective in times and places where public punishment is more in vogue, but how relevant is it in our society? Don't most people commit crimes do so because they either don't think they'll get caught or don't care? Is it the crime itself or the potential punishment that keeps people law-abiding?

- Rehabilitation - Making the criminals into law-abiding citizens. I certainly like the notion of trying to reform criminals and reintegrate them into society. It does, however, seem to conflict with things like retribution and deterrence, and some people take issue with how we "baby" our prisoners. Should prisons be something akin to "crime hospitals" where people are "cured"?

I'm curious how people would rank these reasons in order of importance, or if there should be other reasons on the list.

If a space alien came to our planet and asked why we've got all these people locked in buildings against their will, what would you say?

Driver8
08-18-2005, 03:24 PM
I would say "Oh my god, a space alien! Where the heck did I put my camera?!"

My ordering would depend on the nature of the crime. Some people probably cannot be cured, and if they are a danger to others then the ordering is Isolation, Retribution, Deterrence, Rehabilitation.

If it's a pickpocket the ordering will be closer to Deterrence, Rehabilitation, Retribution, Isolation.

I think that deterrence is fairly important. You are probably right that most people who commit crime think they will get away with it, but surely by consistently locking them up you reduce the amount of people who think they are going to get away with it.

I also have no problem with the idea of retribution. The idea that there will be consequences for people who deliberately do us wrong is pretty fundamental to human behaviour. That we have a complex procedural system with checks and balances instead of blind emotion to handle this retribution is one of the positive things in modern society.

CJJ*
08-18-2005, 03:41 PM
Retribution - Giving the criminals what they deserve...That seems to me like a completely emotional reaction, but if it is, is that acceptable?

More than emotional, such policy makes good social sense in that it deters vigilanties and the inevitable blood feuds that result. This of course assumes the law can gain the respect of a society.

Isolation - Keeping the criminals away from the general public.

True I think in the case of convictions for pre-meditated crimes. It is more difficult to apply this reasoning to, say, crimes of passion. Though it may be--as you state--"the most pure in a logical sense", it doesn't jibe with a sense that certain crimes deserve more/less punishment than others.

Deterrence...Don't most people commit crimes do so because they either don't think they'll get caught or don't care?

True, but the key word here is "think"; if on the other hand people knew for certain they would "not get caught" (say, because there is no punishment associated with a law I was breaking), there would be a lot more law-breaking.

Is it the crime itself or the potential punishment that keeps people law-abiding?

Ethicists have argued this since Socrates. I will only note that, whether one or the other contributes more to keeping people law-abiding, eliminating either would certainly decrease the incentive to stay law-abiding. In short, both are deterrents, so who cares w.r.t. why we punish criminals?

Rehabilitation - Making the criminals into law-abiding citizens. I certainly like the notion of trying to reform criminals and reintegrate them into society. It does, however, seem to conflict with things like retribution and deterrence, and some people take issue with how we "baby" our prisoners. Should prisons be something akin to "crime hospitals" where people are "cured"?

Rehabilitation is a laudable goal, but it is clearly secondary to the ones above. My main argument is that while retribution, isolation, and deterrence of criminals produce a direct social good (by encouraging or protecting law-abiding behavior, assuming again the law is just), rehabilitation at best provides an indirect social good (e.g. promotion of social conscience), and even that is hard to define. I don't mean to imply there isn't perhaps a moral duty to rehabilitating prisoners--I believe there is--but it's hard to point to anything other than my subjective opinion as to its importance.

I'm curious how people would rank these reasons in order of importance

Deterence and retribution tied at the top, followed by isolation and rehabilitation.

Evil Captor
08-18-2005, 03:42 PM
You left out a reason. Out of respect for the victim.

Let me explain what I mean by that. Suppose a scumbag kidnaps, rapes and brutally beats a teenaged girl. He's found guilty. But we have discovered a magic pill of some sort that will cure said scumbag of any need or desire to ever rape anyone again. A "good citizen" pill if you will. So there's no need for deterrence or isolation. If we do not believe in retribution, should we then let said scumbag go once he's been given the pill?

I would argue "no." Because doing so trivializes the enormity of what's been done to the girl. She should not have been treated like that by the scumbag, and even if we can guarantee he'll never do it again, just letting the guy go says, "Hey, it's OK that you raped that girl, really. She's nothing and no one. What happened to her was tragic, but we can't be concerned by it."

I say we lock the scumbag up as a way of saying, "Hey, this girl's life matters, and even though you'll never do anything like that again, we have to express the value we place on her life, by making you experience consequences for what you've done."

It's not the same thing as retribution, I think, because the focus isn't so much on the criminal as the victim.

Loopydude
08-18-2005, 04:12 PM
I would put isolation and rehabilitation at the top as equally important (if the latter is possible, anyway), then deterrance, then retribution. Unfortionately, our present system is almost the complete inverse, with rehabilitation omitted almost entirely.

Why is this true? "Why are a lot of things about this country as screwed up as they are?" is the only answer I can provide.

Mr2001
08-18-2005, 06:11 PM
- Retribution - Giving the criminals what they deserve. I would say that "an eye for an eye" was the definition of justice for a long time, and that it's still a prevalent sentiment today. That seems to me like a completely emotional reaction, but if it is, is that acceptable? It makes me uneasy to think of the judicial system functioning in essence to satisfy the vengeance of citizens, but could we function as a society without that satisfaction?
No, it's not acceptable. The urge to get back at someone who did you wrong is natural, but it serves no purpose (other than improving a victim's mood) that isn't covered by isolation, deterrence, or rehabilitation. In a civilized society, it can and should be dealt with in other ways, just like so many other natural urges. I think we could function without it if we just collectively grew the balls to say "Sorry, but as the victim, you're too close to this issue emotionally to have any input on what the punishment should be."

- Isolation - Keeping the criminals away from the general public. Out of the reasons I came up with, this strikes me as the most pure in a logical sense. In order to maintain order in a society, the criminal element needs to be removed for the protection of the rest of the citizens. However, is this more for our protection or for our peace of mind?
Depends on the crime. If my neighbor gets arrested for tax evasion, I'm not any safer because he's locked away - it's not like he'll be paying taxes from prison. But if he's arrested for arson, I probably am safer knowing that he won't be burning down my home.

- Deterrence - Making other criminals or potential criminals think twice. I think this is more effective in times and places where public punishment is more in vogue, but how relevant is it in our society? Don't most people commit crimes do so because they either don't think they'll get caught or don't care? Is it the crime itself or the potential punishment that keeps people law-abiding?
I'd say the punishment is effective, but longer sentences don't always provide more deterrent effect. Someone might become less likely to commit a certain crime if the sentence is raised from 30 days to 1 year, but what if it's raised from 25 years to 50 years? Those are both pretty long terms, and someone who isn't worried about the prospect of a 25 year sentence probably won't care about a 50 year sentence either.

- Rehabilitation - Making the criminals into law-abiding citizens. I certainly like the notion of trying to reform criminals and reintegrate them into society. It does, however, seem to conflict with things like retribution and deterrence, and some people take issue with how we "baby" our prisoners. Should prisons be something akin to "crime hospitals" where people are "cured"?
It'd be nice, but I don't think they're very effective at it. Why do you say rehabilitation conflicts with deterrence? It's still prison whether you spend half the day learning not to be a criminal or just staring at the cell walls.

I'm curious how people would rank these reasons in order of importance, or if there should be other reasons on the list.
Isolation, rehabilitation, deterrence... with retribution coming in a distant fourth, days after the race has ended. The trophies for most important reasons have long since been given out, and even the last "participant" trophy has been melted down and sold for scrap by the time retribution finally limps across the finish line. ;)

I would argue "no." Because doing so trivializes the enormity of what's been done to the girl. She should not have been treated like that by the scumbag, and even if we can guarantee he'll never do it again, just letting the guy go says, "Hey, it's OK that you raped that girl, really. She's nothing and no one. What happened to her was tragic, but we can't be concerned by it."
Really? I think it says, "What you did was so awful that we're going to forcibly and permanently change your behavior to make sure it never happens again. You can't go on being who you are if you're going to do things like this, because we won't stand for it."

It's not the same thing as retribution, I think, because the focus isn't so much on the criminal as the victim.
It seems to me that's exactly what retribution is about. Someone wrongs you and you wrong them back to make yourself feel better. You want to put the scumbag in jail just to let the victim know you're thinking about her.

Odesio
08-18-2005, 07:50 PM
- Retribution - Giving the criminals what they deserve. I would say that "an eye for an eye" was the definition of justice for a long time, and that it's still a prevalent sentiment today. That seems to me like a completely emotional reaction, but if it is, is that acceptable?


The whole reason for writing down a set of laws was so that emotion didn't allow people to get carried away. At its heart, an eye for an eye just means that the punishment should fit the crime. If you take out my eye you won't be punished by having your legs removed or executed.


I'm curious how people would rank these reasons in order of importance, or if there should be other reasons on the list.


Isolation is probably the most imporant part. They're not causing harm to the population at large while behind bars.


If a space alien came to our planet and asked why we've got all these people locked in buildings against their will, what would you say?

They broke the rules of our society so we are punishing them. The severity of their punishment depends on the severity on the importance of the rules that were broken.

Marc

msmith537
08-19-2005, 11:30 AM
If a space alien came to our planet and asked why we've got all these people locked in buildings against their will, what would you say?


I would say "shut up! That's why!"



IMHO, the biggest reason for locking dangerous criminals up is in order to protect the public.

As for rehabilitation, I question the effectiveness. A lot of it depends on the nature of the crime and the criminal. A sociopath cannot be rehabilitated. Some street punk might be, provided he can be given the tools to survive in normal society and placed in an environment where he won't be encouraged to return to his criminal ways.

Alessan
08-19-2005, 12:01 PM
Let's use logic.

Most crimes are committed by people who think they'll get away with it. Therefore, people who [i]don't[/b] think they could get away with it mostly [/b]don't[/b] commit crimes.

If there wasn't any reason to to fear getting caught, perhaps people from the group that doesn't commit crimes because they think they'll get caught would commit more crimes. In other words, people like you and I. The purpose of punishment is not to deter "professional" criminals, but rather to deter people who rarely commit crimes in the first place - because we're afraid to go to jail.

Deterrance it is.

AHunter3
08-19-2005, 12:17 PM
I'm opposed to punishment.

Rehabilitate criminals if you can. If that fails, and they continue to do evil things to the rest of us, kill them humanely, not as retribution but as isolation.

I think ongoing incarceration is more cruel than the death penalty.

Crotalus
08-19-2005, 12:35 PM
Evil Captor brought up a valid fifth reason, I think, but used the wrong definition of victim. I believe that the concept of punishment in US (which came from British concepts) comes from a view that all crimes are crimes against society as a whole. Of course, many crimes have individual victims as well, but the punishment is for the injury to society. I read a paper or article on this a while back which I'll try to find. Maybe someone more learned can help me out here.

Metacom
08-19-2005, 12:36 PM
Should prisons be something akin to "crime hospitals" where people are "cured"?
I think we should have two kinds of prisons. One type akin to "crime hospitals" where the goal is to rehabilitate the prisoner by providing counseling, education, job training, life-skills classes, developing a "what I'm going to do when I get out plan", etc.

And another type that's a "comfortable warehouse" where people who've shown themselves to be beyond rehabilitation can go to live out their days in an environment where they can earn a limited set of privileges (a nicer cell, more oppurtunities for social interaction, access to books, televisions, and other forms of entertainment, etc.) if they behave well.

I also think we should reduce the number of criminal laws (e.g., drug laws) that we have so we have fewer prisoners.

Metacom
08-19-2005, 12:38 PM
Oh, and AHunter3's notion of perpetual incarceration being less humane then the death penalty is interesting. My "comfortable warehouse" prisons shall also provide facilitated suicide facilities. :D

CJJ*
08-19-2005, 12:49 PM
Mr2001: (Retribution is) not acceptable. The urge to get back at someone who did you wrong is natural, but it serves no purpose (other than improving a victim's mood) that isn't covered by isolation, deterrence, or rehabilitation. In a civilized society, it can and should be dealt with in other ways, just like so many other natural urges. I think we could function without it if we just collectively grew the balls to say "Sorry, but as the victim, you're too close to this issue emotionally to have any input on what the punishment should be."

I'll have to strongly disagree here.

First, a civilized society cannot deal directly with personal feelings of retribution, or any personal emotions for that matter. What I think you wanted to say was "a civilized person can and should deal with such natural urges." I agree with that to an extent, but criminal law and the courts exist mainly because personal morality and ethics (essentially laws with no consequence other than pangs of conscience) are insufficient to maintain society. This is obvious when these tools are applied toward eliminating criminal behavior, but it should also be obvious that an ostensibly objective system of punishing criminals also provides a method for satisfying this personal vengeance. In this sense "improving a victim's mood" is a social good, in that it deters vigilanties.

Second, I take issue with the idea that because a person is too emotionally close to an issue that they can't have any input on the punishment. The amount of harm caused by a crime is a key factor in determining the appropriate sentence, and determining harm requires input from the victim or those emotionally close to the victim. In fact, if punishment is determined ostensibly on the deterrence factor alone, one has to assume we know what we would like to deter: Harm to members of society. How can we possibly know what that is without allowing input from victims?

In summary, the victim's personal need for retribution is essential in determining the objective harm caused by the crime. Of course, the victim's stated harm should not be taken as Gospel, but rather be objectively evaluated and then used as a (key) factor in determining punishment. That punishment would then serve a second purpose of acting as a deterrent. In my opinion, retribution and deterrence are so closely related in understanding why we punish criminals that I tied them in importance at the top of my ordering.

spingears
08-19-2005, 03:15 PM
It is my understanding that a thief in the mideast loses his right hand for the first offense and the left for the second. There are virtually no no-handed persons. One lesson is enough.

Paul in Saudi might comment.

BTK will be locked up for life.
What justification is there, to not execute him and save the state(gov't) the upkeep for the rest of his life.

Anne Neville
08-19-2005, 03:45 PM
BTK will be locked up for life.
What justification is there, to not execute him and save the state(gov't) the upkeep for the rest of his life.

Because Kansas didn't have the death penalty when he was committing his murders (http://www.cnn.com/2005/LAW/08/18/btk.killings/?section=cnn_us). Applying the death penalty to him would be an example of an ex post facto law (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex_post_facto), which is prohibited by the Constitution (http://www.house.gov/Constitution/Constitution.html) (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3).

Yeah, I'd like to see him get the death penalty, too, but having ex post facto laws could open quite the can of worms...

Yeticus Rex
08-19-2005, 05:22 PM
I am almost finished reading this book - Freakonomics: A rogue economist explores the other side of Everything. - By Levitt and Dubner (http://www.freakonomics.com/thebook.php) and Levitt makes a whole lot of sense. From this chapter (http://www.freakonomics.com/ch4.php), I have considered some reprioritization of how criminals should be addressed:

I have separated non-violent criminals (#1-#3, in that order) from violent criminals (mostly #2a) first:

Deterrence is by far #1.......before behaviors turn criminal in the first place, or to deter non-violent criminals before becoming violent criminals. Do this, then you will have many less violent criminals in the long run.

Rehabilitation for the non-violent criminals is #2. I guess this could be more of a "behavior treatment center", but still prison-like. I would never call it a type of "hospital". The word "hospital" should be reserved for surgeries, giving birth and saving lives, not for rehabilitating criminal behavior.

Isolation is #2a.......when #1 and #2 failed to curb the criminal's behavior. Rader will be familiar with this form for the rest of his life, locked up and forgotten....even by the media. True Isolation Prison.

Retribution is #3......Capital punishment is a joke when you have upteem number of appeals and even some innocent of the prisoners are on death row for wrongful convictions.......although the victim may have their own way of coping after the crime and consider what retribution the criminal should have, the criminal will seldom (if ever) consider the victim's feelings before, during and after the crime. The justice system will be far more accurate and fair in punishment than victims from all walks of life.

BTW:
If a space alien came to our planet and asked why we've got all these people locked in buildings against their will, what would you say?
What makes you think that any alien civilization would not have the concept of criminals in their own society and their ways to deal with them, which may include their own type of prisons?

Blalron
08-19-2005, 05:59 PM
I can understand putting violent criminals in prison (to isolate them) but I don't see much reason to treat non-violent offenders the same way.

I think locking human beings up in cages should be an absolute last resort. We have other options: house arrest, ankle bracelets, random drug tests (I think only hard drugs should warrant legal penalties), community service, fines, asset forfeiture. Our society is way too quick to simply lock people up when other options might work just as well.

Mr2001
08-19-2005, 06:56 PM
First, a civilized society cannot deal directly with personal feelings of retribution, or any personal emotions for that matter. What I think you wanted to say was "a civilized person can and should deal with such natural urges."
Yes, that's what I meant, and that's why I said "in a civilized society", not "by a civilized society".

In summary, the victim's personal need for retribution is essential in determining the objective harm caused by the crime.
How can it be objective if it depends on their subjective emotions?

Of course, the victim's stated harm should not be taken as Gospel, but rather be objectively evaluated and then used as a (key) factor in determining punishment.
Now I think you're going in a different direction. There's a difference between (1) determining how much someone was harmed (emotionally as well as objectively) and plugging that into some formula to determine a sentence, and (2) attempting to make the criminal suffer as much as the victim did. The former can be legitimate, and I think that's what you're advocating; the latter is simply "two wrongs make a right".

Magiver
08-19-2005, 08:02 PM
I can understand putting violent criminals in prison (to isolate them) but I don't see much reason to treat non-violent offenders the same way.

I think locking human beings up in cages should be an absolute last resort. We have other options: house arrest, ankle bracelets, random drug tests (I think only hard drugs should warrant legal penalties), community service, fines, asset forfeiture. Our society is way too quick to simply lock people up when other options might work just as well. I don't want you to take this the wrong way but, GOOD GOD MAAN. Community service, fines, and asset forfeiture mean nothing to a petty criminal with no money or assets. House arrest works great if you're a billionaire decorator with a career at stake. An ankle bracelet on a career criminal wouldn't last the first night. And neither would your car if you lived nearby.

I think Driver8 nailed it right out of the box. The order of preference would change based on the criminal.

I would like to add that it is impossible to rehabilitate someone. Can't be done. Rehabilitation is something that is accomplished by the individual and cannot be forced on, or otherwise bestowed upon. While I'm strongly in favor of the process, it has to be entered into by the individual (mental health being the exception if drugs restore lost function.)