“In Defense of Flogging”

Ullstein Bild, The Granger Collection

This article by Peter Moskos is worth reading.  Even the debate raging in the comments section is fascinating.  But don’t make the interpretive mistake that many apparently did.  The author’s ultimate end is not to argue for the reincarnation of flogging in our penal system; rather, this argument is the means through which he points out how flawed our current penal system is.  His main premise is this: “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?”

He has a point.  If flogging is cruel and unusual punishment, what are the implications if most people still choose it over our current incarceration system?  The distinction between mental torture and physical punishment should be made.  Our current penal system does not include physical punishment, with the rare exception of the death penalty (but that’s another conversation altogether).  Being thrown out of society and forced to simply exist while the world lives around you should fall into the category “mental torture.”  It’s time to discard the notion of rehabilitation and focus on the basic concept of punishment.  Punishment is what deters future crime.  There’s a reason, as Moskos illustrates, that so many criminals are repeat offenders.  Rehabilitation is not working.

An interesting contradiction in logic further illustrates this point.  Incarceration in prison is theoretically a harsher punishment than is flogging, yet it’s generally believed in civilized society that corporal punishment is barbaric and outdated.  However, incarceration is clearly not working, as demonstrated by some of Moskos’ statistics.   In other words, modern societies, the United States in particular, employ the harsher of these two options, yet with little corrective success.

Perhaps modern society is too squeamish to carry out effective punishments that would succeed in deterring future crimes.  Perhaps modern society is too ‘humane’ to even consider punishment when the idealistic notion of rehabilitation hasn’t yet been quashed, despite so much evidence proving its ineptitude.  The focus needs to return to punishing those who deserve it.


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