In Defense of Flogging?
April 27, 2011 2:35 AM   Subscribe

Flogging as an alternative to incarceration? A thoughtful essay that considers flogging as an alternative to incarceration; the author uses this as a rhetorical device to point out the inefficiencies of incarceration, and get a conversation going. Some of the comments in the forum are priceless.
posted by Vibrissae (49 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
The flogging creates the office furniture, how exactly?
posted by pompomtom at 2:52 AM on April 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


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.

Those redneck states that wanted to pass legislation against Sharia law look rather progressive in this light.
posted by three blind mice at 2:55 AM on April 27, 2011


Incarceration, flogging, death penalty...

What's with this uncontrollable urge of our society to punish people for, often even victimless, wrongs? Where does this need to get even with people you've never met come from?
posted by Djinh at 3:04 AM on April 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


"My defense of flogging—whipping, caning, lashing, call it what you will—is meant to be provocative, but only because something extreme is needed to shatter the status quo. We are in denial about the brutality of the uniquely American invention of mass incarceration."

Myself, I like to imagine incarceration this way:

"As you know, the concept of the suction pump is centuries old. Really that's all this is except that instead of sucking water, I'm sucking life. I've just sucked one year of your life away. I might one day go as high as five, but I really don't know what that would do to you. So, let's just start with what we have. What did this do to you? Tell me. And remember, this is for posterity so be honest. How do you feel?"

Except prison is real.
posted by weston at 3:20 AM on April 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think you'll find that every society has punished people for breaking its laws, Djinh, and nearly always in a far more brutal fashion than modern America. The need to 'get even with people you've never met' probably derives from a sense of justice. There's certainly plenty of that around here in regards to bankers and Republican politicians - murderers, thieves and rapists, of course, not so much.
posted by joannemullen at 3:23 AM on April 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


nearly always in a far more brutal fashion than modern America

We are the brutes these days.
posted by ryanrs at 3:32 AM on April 27, 2011


If faced with three years or thirty lashes I'll take the scar tissue.
posted by clarknova at 3:49 AM on April 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


But.. being flogged by a fat Victorian gentleman is not sexy at all.

Secondly, there's no industry in flogging, is there. I mean.. I'm sure by now most of the world's economy depends on the US having a very large underclass of cheap labor.
posted by Harry at 3:57 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm quite certain flogging is less cruel than being locked up for long stretches of time. It's probably not going to make a comeback in any Western penal system, though.

I'm curious to know if recidivism is higher or lower with flogging than serving time.

Robert A. Heinlein defended flogging (and the death penalty) in Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie).
posted by Harald74 at 4:17 AM on April 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


If someone had me flogged for, let's say, drug possession, I'd probably want to kill them.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:26 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm sure by now most of the world's economy depends on the US having a very large underclass of cheap labor.

Not really. the world economy won't come to a halt if a bunch of McDonnalds and Starbucks suddenly have to double their prices and wages, or whatever.
posted by delmoi at 4:27 AM on April 27, 2011


If 2.3-million prisoners doesn't sound like a lot, let me put this number in perspective. It's more than the total number of American military personnel—Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Reserves, and National Guard.

Just looking at the raw numbers it is obvious that we need to do something, but what? and-- more importantly-- how? Somehow we need to convince the majority of voters that we desperately need prison reform and then we need to convince the politicians that we will only vote for them if they address prison reform.

There are a number of Americans locked up for reasons other than violent crime and I think we should start with that. Obviously decriminalizing drugs is a start but we also need to do something about alcoholics as well as the mentally ill. As for white collar crime, I think the best punishment for those greedy bastards is fining them into utter poverty.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:35 AM on April 27, 2011


If a law were proposed to allow this type of punishment in place of incarceration, the lobbyists for the for-profit prisons and the correctional officer's unions would be the first in line to object.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 4:37 AM on April 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


Actually I would be afraid to approve flogging because sure as shit it would become "in addition to" instead of "in lieu of prison time."
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:49 AM on April 27, 2011 [10 favorites]


Actually I would be afraid to approve flogging because sure as shit it would become "in addition to" instead of "in lieu of prison time."

Not to mention minors being "flogged as an adult."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:13 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sure taught Lawrence of Arabia his lesson, didn't it?
posted by localroger at 5:26 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to mention minors being "flogged as an adult."

Vis-a-vis a murder suspect the Des Moines Register, in all solemnity, once presented its front-page readers with the phrase "...the 13 year old man..."

The 'man' was black, of course.

Given the racial disparity in U.S. conviction rates, isn't this proposal really just Calhounism in a dress?
posted by clarknova at 5:47 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


FYI, IANACriminologist.

Incarceration is meant to serve one or more of the following purposes, depending on how it is implemented; rehabilitation, retribution, specific deterrence (keeping the incarcerated person from committing further crimes), and general deterrence (keep others from committing crimes with the threat of incarceration).

Currently the system we have in place (and the tough on crime rhetoric from politicians) place an emphasis on the retributive and deterrent aspects of prison. Unfortunately the studies I've read do not show that increased sentences correlates well with reductions in crime. So as a general deterrent incarceration does not do well.

Corporal punishment addresses only two of the components that incarceration does, retribution and general deterrence. So how does it compare to incarceration on these two points? I'm not certain. I don't know if it can be quantified whether or not flogging is more or less retributive than incarceration. I'm also not certain as to how much retribution there ideally should be in our Justice system. Secondly, I haven't read any research on the deterrent properties of flogging, but if there it has any measurable effect then it's got a leg up on incarceration in that arena.

Even if flogging is not more effective than incarceration as a deterrent, the fact that it's many orders of magnitude cheaper makes it a very attractive alternative. Of course if I had my druthers I'd like to see much less incarceration and more fines and parole.
posted by nulledge at 5:55 AM on April 27, 2011


Somehow we need to convince the majority of voters that we desperately need prison reform and then we need to convince the politicians that we will only vote for them if they address prison reform.

A new poll in California finds that:

* 56% believe that too many people are imprisoned in California.
* 72% favor reducing the penalty for personal drug possession, including majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (72%), and Republicans (66%), as well as majorities of voters in every corner of the state (regional data available upon request).
* 51% believe that those caught with a small amount of drugs for personal use should spend fewer than 3 months (27%) or no time at all (24%) in jail.
* 41% say they’d be more likely to support a candidate who reduced the penalty to a misdemeanor, compared to 15% who say they’d be less likely.

But I will bet some amount of money that wanting to appear to be "tough on crime" (or being afraid of appearing to be "soft" on criminals) will keep politicians and their lobbyists staying on the message that OMG dangerous felons will be released from prisons DIRECTLY INTO YOUR CHILDREN'S SCHOOLS!!1! and voters will fall for it. Again.
posted by rtha at 6:18 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the argument here is that it's meant to convince conservatives who think prison should be about discouragement from committing crimes and punishing criminals rather than rehabilitation that prison really isn't the best way to go about that, nor does more punishment discourage people from committing crimes. Thus, what they really are getting out of prison is just sheer punishment.

Thus, it'd be more efficient to give criminals an intensely painful and unpleasant experience rather than essentially house them for years in isolation from society.

The thing is that I think it's a flawed argument, as I don't think many people other than children think prisons exist for just punishment. Most people think it should be a mix of punishment (for a sense of justice as well as offering a deterrent to people considering crimes) and rehabilitation. The ratio of that mix differs from person to person, and on the left-right spectrum, liberals favor more rehabilitation and conservatives favor more punishment. But it's silly to act like conservatives only want punishment.

Then again, I do remember getting a lot of email forwards from right wing acquaintances about Sheriff Joe Arpaio's prison. Previously, which links to more previously.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:30 AM on April 27, 2011


I think you'll find that every society has punished people for breaking its laws, Djinh, and nearly always in a far more brutal fashion than modern America.

If you mean in the past then, sure, humans used to be quite a nasty bunch. Today, however, you'd have a hard time finding a western nation that has a criminal justice system even close as brutal as the one in the USA.
posted by Djinh at 6:44 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


"There's certainly plenty of that around here in regards to bankers and Republican politicians - murderers, thieves and rapists, of course, not so much."

This is a false inequivalence.
posted by Eideteker at 6:44 AM on April 27, 2011


Reactionary voters and the politicians they vote for like to divide the world into "good people" and "bad people". There isn't really any way to change from one to the other; that would require the reactionary thinker to critically evaluate what changed about the person, which isn't a reactive way to think.

Reactionary voters might like to just kill all the bad people, but they know that good people don't kill. So, failing that, they'd like to separate all the bad people from the good people so that the good people won't get murdered quite so often.

For this, incarceration works. So does creating a permanent underclass, via sex offender registries, ubiquitous background checks, and the like. Flogging doesn't, even if it is more humane.

You might convince a reactionary thinker of this sort that prison is effective as neither punishment nor deterrent nor reform, but that wouldn't change their stance toward imprisonment. It might change the way they talk about it. It might make them more honest; they might actually say that they want to get the bad people away from the good people. Having to face their opinions like that might cause them to reevaluate themselves; but, again, they're reactionary, so probably not. They'll probably just get entrenched and radicalized in their opinions.

If you need to work with a reactionary thinker, you need to speak in terms of carrots and sticks. For instance: "With conviction rates this high, we need to be very careful about false convictions, or else good people will end up in prison by mistake." That is a threat that a reactionary thinker can imagine themselves and their loved ones being subject to. It doesn't really address the issue of excessive incarceration directly, but you can't really address anything directly when you're dealing with a reactionary thinker, so you might at least persuade them to vote in a way that incidentally favors a humanitarian agenda.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:47 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Robert A. Heinlein defended flogging (and the death penalty)

That is about as certain an indicator of a bad idea for public policy you could find.
posted by Herodios at 6:50 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm just about old enough to have been at school when corporal punishment was allowed (it still is in many private schools in the UK). Believe me, getting smacked - particularly for something you didn't do, or because someone else is lying - isn't going to lead to 'I'd better behave in future' as one#s overwhelming response.

If it was a choice between the next 30 years incarcerated or death for me, I know which I'd pick. (Hint: it's the one that's now illegal here.) I can't think of a worse punishment than being deprived of one's liberty, viciously and at length. There are arguments against both capital/corporal punishment and the death penalty, and the effects on society of both, but life imprisonment is a horrible punishment.
posted by mippy at 6:58 AM on April 27, 2011


Flogging can be fatal though. So isn't there a risk that, by substituting flogging for incarceration, you've effectively changed the punishment to the "potential death penalty"?
posted by dubold at 6:59 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really hope that one day the concept of retributive justice will become something people look back to and find hard to imagine.

What we still have in most supposedly modern societies is a system where we exact revenge on people on behalf of their victims. It's really only one step removed from sending a mob to hang a horse thief. Is that really the best we can do? Is there not something better we can do for society than create thousands upon thousands of damaged, institutionalised individuals who stand even less of a chance of integrating back into society?

Flogging isn't the answer, though.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:32 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sounds like a mashup of Swift's Modest Proposal and Foucault's Discipline and Punish.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 7:33 AM on April 27, 2011


I'm surprisingly divided on this issue.

Flogging is barbaric and no civilized country should do it but it doesn't seem to me to be as bad as a US jail, frankly. The main issue is, sadly, economic - if I'm a regular working guy, I'd much, much rather show up for a flogging on Friday night and spend Saturday in discomfort and go back to work on Monday than I would spend a year or two - or a decade or two - in jail and, quite likely, never be able to work again.

IF they replaced jail sentences with flogging then perhaps I'd be for it - but as commenters post, they'd simply give you jail AND a flogging, so it'd be worse.

It's pathetic that this is seriously worth contemplating in the US today...

> Flogging can be fatal though.

So can being in jail. And even if you aren't killed, you're losing time out of your life.

Suppose I'm going to jail for 10 years, or getting a severe flogging. I expect about 30 more years of life at this point. If I have a 1% chance of dying from being flogged, that's an expected four months off my life... overall I would personally take the risk.

(Again - I'm against it as government policy - but I'm also curious as what I would personally do in some hypothetical evil world where I could get flogged...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:34 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I really hope that one day the concept of retributive justice will become something people look back to and find hard to imagine.

First, Heinlein's argument on corporal punishment is that it reduced recidivism. If this is true (which I have no idea of and strongly doubt) then wouldn't it overall be good for society?

Second, punishment of criminals in society serves a lot of complex purposes and one of them is, in fact, revenge. You might not like it but revenge appears to pre-date humanity, and it does appear to offer positive benefits for the victims and survivors.

There will always be retributive justice, even just people punching other people back. In the ideal society we hope we will one day deserve, there will still be crimes, and victims will still get their day in court, and criminals will be punished.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:42 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


dubold, a modern American prison sentence can, for some persons, be read the following ways:
- sentenced to repeated rape
- sentenced to death by AIDS
- sentenced to infection with a variety of non-fatal STDs
- sentenced to death by stabbing
- sentenced to death by blunt trauma
and so on.

That said, actually arguing the merits of flogging misses the point that both Vibrissae and the article's author made explicitly. He's not actually talking about flogging - he's talking about our prison system and the fact that we incarcerate our citizens at a higher rate than literally anyone else on the face of the planet.

I'm also pretty lost. I mean, clearly, the current state of affairs isn't a necessary one. But take DUIs for example. Most drunk driving fatalities are caused by people with one or more previous DUI convictions. They often don't even have a license and/or are driving someone else's vehicle. It seems like we should be locking these people up because that's the only way to keep them from drinking and driving and thus killing people. So what do you do instead?

I don't know.
posted by kavasa at 7:53 AM on April 27, 2011


> It seems like we should be locking these people up because that's the only way to keep them from drinking and driving and thus killing people. So what do you do instead?

Australia managed to massively lower the drinking/driving rate in less than a generation - because the carnage was so great. And, like most adult solutions to real-world problems, they used a mixed strategy. A lot of it was increased enforcement and getting people off the road - for example, you instantly lose your license for a year the first time you are caught drunk - and a lot of it was graphic commercials pointing out the societal costs of drunk driving and ending by repeating the harsh legal penalties, and a lot of politicians on both parties speaking out on TV and radio. Drunk driving became shameful very fast this way.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:12 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm against prison, jail and flogging for minor offenses. Bring back the stocks. Public embarrassment sounds like a better punishment all together. It's cheap, just requires some wood, shackles and a guard standing around. Keep the sentences short, eight hours a day up to a week. Let people throw some rotten food at them. Make sure their name and offense are posted. Sounds like a lot more fun for the rest of us, gets the person shamed and saves a lot of time and money.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 8:21 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The need to 'get even with people you've never met' probably derives from a sense of justice. There's certainly plenty of that around here in regards to bankers and Republican politicians - murderers, thieves and rapists, of course, not so much.

That rightwing boilerplate salad tasted really good. More please?
posted by blucevalo at 8:39 AM on April 27, 2011


If someone had me flogged for, let's say, drug possession, I'd probably want to kill them.

And instead, you have the option of being locked in a box for a decade with nothing to do but think about how much you want to kill that someone, and chances are you still get the beatings anyway! And after you get out, you have the awesome scenario of being ostracized for being locked in a box, so you can never get a real job again. Much better!
posted by FatherDagon at 8:48 AM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Bring back the stocks.

Too good for them. Bring back the cross.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 9:26 AM on April 27, 2011


I've been flogged/caned, so at least as far as my physical tolerance I know I can take it. Arguably I'd rather get whacked ten times and spend a week to a month recovering (caning is fucking painful, and I'm a mid level masochist) than go to jail for a year (or according to his ration, get out of a five year sentence).

But practically, the thing that keeps me from a life of crime is mostly the fact that I lose all pretenses of middle class with a criminal record. Spending long periods bored with barbarians who beat me is something I survived once with public school in a poor neighbourhood, and I know my capacity for wrong doing is mostly minimum security prison (and I'm female) but I have to wonder if, just like I don't see caning as terminally scary, for the poor and down trodden, having their unemployability formalized is much of a threat either.
posted by Phalene at 9:34 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


There was an old, deleted but interesting thread on this subject a couple of years ago.

There can be too much variance between individual's experience of flogging or caning to make it an equitable punishment. My own preference is for a return to work camps and chain gangs. We would still be talking about a custodial sentence but perhaps it could be done with less restriction on freedom (e.g. regular or occasional furloughs) and in a cheaper, more productive manner.
posted by BigSky at 10:31 AM on April 27, 2011


Flogging can be fatal though. So isn't there a risk that, by substituting flogging for incarceration, you've effectively changed the punishment to the "potential death penalty"?

You can say the same for prison.
posted by straight at 10:31 AM on April 27, 2011


What interests me most about this essay is how much of it is a half-hearted, equivocating apologia for the book's title, imposed by the book's editor as a "provocative" sales tactic. It's interesting to watch as Moskos's devil's-advocate position gets away from him, and it reminds me a lot of (and actually makes me more sympathetic to) the MeFi moderation position against sarcastic bigotry:
I had one great fear: the title. Could it not be Why Prison? or even In Defense of Flogging? But my editor stuck to his guns (and noted that question marks in titles were bad form). When I started writing In Defense of Flogging, I wasn't yet persuaded as to the book's basic premise. I, too, was opposed to flogging. It is barbaric, retrograde, and ugly. But as I researched, wrote, and thought, I convinced myself of the moral justness of my defense. [...] Certainly In Defense of Flogging is more about the horrors of our prison-industrial complex than an ode to flogging. But I do defend flogging as the best way to jump-start the prison debate and reach beyond the liberal choir.[...] Certainly my defense of flogging is more thought experiment than policy proposal. I do not expect to see flogging reinstated any time soon. And deep down, I wouldn't want to see it. And yet, in the course of writing what is, at its core, a quaintly retro abolish-prison book, I've come to see the benefits of wrapping a liberal argument in a conservative facade.
The interesting thing here is how obviously the "conservative facade" has taken over both in Moskos's writing and in the discussion around it. Both the book's title and the ensuing discussion are now entirely about exactly what Moskos claims not to want to talk seriously about, whether flogging should be introduced into legitimate public-policy debate, rather than what he claims to want to talk about, whether punitive imprisonment should be abandoned. The point-of-comparison thought experiment has become the real substance of the debate. It's a very Colbert-ish pickle he's gotten into, and it's interesting to watch and note how impossible it seems to be to get out of it again: what was meant to be a sprightly, ironic performance of conservatism has become the real thing.
posted by RogerB at 10:32 AM on April 27, 2011


"Just looking at the raw numbers it is obvious that we need to do something, but what? and-- more importantly-- how?"

I kind-of want to amend state constitutions to require that any increase in prison spending must come with the same percentage increase in education funding. So if you are spending 10% more on prisons than last year, you must also spend 10% more on education. If you're going to be "tough on crime" or if your prison-industrial complex buddies are demanding more money, you're going to have to fund education better too. If you can't afford to increase both budgets, you're going to have to look real hard at, say, non-violent drug offender sentencing and maybe decide we don't need to lock up teenagers with a couple ounces of pot for longer than murderers (in some cases).

If nothing else, education is one of the best crime deterrents, so at least you'd be forcing the state to fund a deterrent program that actually worked whenever they wanted to get all excited about crime spending.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:47 AM on April 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Trivia Question from the year 2027:

"True or False: When the idea to reinstate flogging as a punishment for crimes was first introduced it was a thought experiment critiquing the prison system rather than a serious proposal."
posted by straight at 10:48 AM on April 27, 2011


"My own preference is for a return to work camps and chain gangs."

Many states do still have chain gangs. It's typically a coveted assignment for well-behaved prisoners. My state has enormous waiting lists for the "good" prison work groups (like the carpentry program that makes all the wooden state seals in the courthouses and state buildings), and doesn't fund them adequately. Know why? Because a) citizens get pissy when you undercut their wages with prison labor at $1.25/hour, especially when unemployment is high and b) a high proportion of people strenuously object to providing educational and work opportunities, like GED programs, to prisoners, when they should be "suffering" not "getting services and opportunities." This is also why they don't want prisoners to have TVs or prison yards or decent food. Also c) programs like work camps and chain gangs cost money and, again, people object to spending money on prisons that does anything beyond warehouse prisoners.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:52 AM on April 27, 2011


With flogging, you do it, it gets done, it gets over with, and one recovers. At some point in the past, we considered a debt to society discharged.

That does not happen anymore. The American penal system is never really done with prisoners, they just stop having to pay for housing them. The felon, however, continues to pay in various forms and will do so until the day he or she dies.
posted by adipocere at 10:59 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just as a data point, let us revisit the story of Michael Fay.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:17 PM on April 27, 2011


Once there was this kid who
took a trip to Singapore
and brought along his spraypaint...

posted by lemuring at 4:58 PM on April 27, 2011


why america? why?...
posted by lemuring at 5:03 PM on April 27, 2011


I prefer Flogging Molly as an alternative to the Dropkick Murphies.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:31 PM on April 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


> I really hope that one day the concept of retributive justice will become something people look back to and find hard to imagine.

This :

http://www.metafilter.com/84050/Without-Guilt-and-Justice
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 7:06 AM on April 28, 2011


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