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Old December 13th, 2012, 06:27 PM   #11
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I was thinking about wether or not punishment is better than rehabilitation (medical, psychological and other therapeutical means).

As with many other things I like to draw theories to their extremes to see if they are still fit, see if they are still working. My opinion with any theory is that for the theory to be 100 % true, it needs to be perfect under ANY conditions. I don't like half-true theories, I want all theories to be bulletproof (which no longer makes them theories, but knowledge).

For this purpose I'd like to draw the theory of punishment to its extremes:

A) If punishment works as a preventive measure for some crimes for some level of punishment

B) and the harsher the punishment the less crime there will be,

C) can we then think of a punishment so harsh and cruel that that the punishment will only be applicable in theory because there are nobody who dare to even think about committing the crime which carries this punishment?

D) If this is true, and if we really want to get rid of ANY crime in society, what is the rational and/or logical reason for not using this punishment as the only punishment for any crime? After all, nobody will be punished, because there will be no criminals (because there are nobody who dare to commit any crime)!

Surely I believe this is worth a discussion.

I don't have the answer to this question.
First, AFAIK for the control of crime punishment and rehabilitation are not alternative but complementary measures.

Then, the core idea here and its duly rebuttal are hardly new.

Since at least as early as the time of Draco of Athens empirical evidence has overwhelmingly shown that there is in practice a ceiling effect for the correlation between the severity of the punishment of criminals and its crime deterrent effect.

In plain English, falling from 4,000 meters is not necessarily more effectively deterrent than falling from 400 meters.

Last but not least, and at the risk of overstating the obvious, among myriad other empirical reasons even from the mere human condition, literally getting rid of absolutely ANY crime is in practice just an Utopian ideal, fundamentally asking for unrealistic perfection.
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Old December 13th, 2012, 07:11 PM   #12

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Sylla brings up some very valid points, but first I'd like to expand on what I said about the justification of punishment. To repeat myself where I was interrupted,

Punishment is only justifiable if
a) It acts as a deterrent to committing a crime or

b) It acts to rehabilitate the criminal or
c) It acts to deter others from committing crimes and
d) It is a just punishment

a) Obviously, imprisonment prevents a person from reoffending except within the walls of a prison. Capital punishment prevents a person from ever reoffending. As a deterrent for committing crimes after release is very questionable. Also, the costs of the imprisonment must be considered. Incarceration costs, on the average, about $30,000/inmate/year. It also removes a perhaps productive person from society, removes a person from economic and emotional support of a family. These costs may be nil or very considerable.

b) It is highly questionable whether punishment rehabilitates. The recidivism rate continues to be around 65%. It is highest for property crimes and lowest for sex crimes. The statistics are consistently clear on that. In fact, recidivism rates seem to correlate negatively with the cost of the crime. And, as Sylla said, and as this point emphasizes, punishment is (theoretically) complementary to punishment, not an alternative as the title of the thread suggests.

c) This is a part of the deterrence aspect. But Skinnerian psychology proves that negative reinforcement (aka punishment) never completely extinguishes a learned behavior. In fact, after extinction of a behavior, random reinforcement quickly and strongly reinstates the behavior. But the fact is also that most criminals seldom think in terms of getting caught and punished.

I propose that in regard to this point, if there is no likelihood of punishment, many people would commit crimes that never do. But punishment that can have this kind of effect can be as small as social disapproval. We are social animals, and anyone who deliberately commits a crime (out of fear of punishment) is to some degree anti-social. Crime is, by nature, an anti-social behavior. Lots of room for discussion here.

d) The punishment is a just punishment. What does it mean? Intuitively, unjust punishment is counter-productive. Ideally "justice" should leave the offender and the offended back in the position they would have been in before the crime. That's impossible. If I steal $5.00 from you, I can be made to return the $5.00, but I cannot possibly undo the trauma you experienced by having your person/property violated.

Plato's Republic is a fairly lengthy dialog whose point was to define justice. In that Plato did not succeed, but the whole point of building a utopian state in the dialog was to raise issues about the ideal of justice. (Many consider it Plato's political philosophy, and Plato did get rather far afield in the dialog. But for his political philosophy, one is better to read The Laws.)

Now I've strung my clothesline. We can hang some relevant facts on it and see if it breaks.
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Old December 13th, 2012, 07:26 PM   #13

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The ceiling effect that Sylla1 mentioned is highly relevant here. This is why I think the argument about the Death Penalty as a deterrent is silly. Someone who commits a crime they know will land them life without parole in prison is not likely to be deterred by the possibility of capital punishment.

There are some people that you just can't "scare" into line. As BlackDog mentioned, drug addicts, the starving etc. will risk any punishment to get what they need.

This is why the emphasis should neither be on rehabilitation or punishment, but on educating and instilling morality on people before they are in a situation to commit a crime.

One thing that I think WOULD be a highly effective deterrent would be to make every felon register the same way sex offenders have to. The possibility of becoming a social pariah is an extremely effective deterrent for many people.
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Old December 13th, 2012, 08:04 PM   #14

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One thing that I think WOULD be a highly effective deterrent would be to make every felon register the same way sex offenders have to. The possibility of becoming a social pariah is an extremely effective deterrent for many people.
I suggest that the fact of becoming a social pariah would be an extremely harsh punishment for many people. OTOH, many people who commit crimes are already social pariahs.

Registration for sex offenders has become extremely onerous. One reason is the difficulty of defining a "sex offender" and the results such definitions have had in some states. For example in one state a drunk urinating in public ("indecent exposure" was the charge). In another state, the County attorney attempted to have a public urination deemed a sex crime for the registration law, but the appeals court threw it out. Another outrageous example was a 12-year-old boy who exposed himself to a 10-year-old female cousin. His aunt filed a formal complaint, and it went on his record as a crime against a child under 13. At 21 he was required to register as a sex offender. (This case was discussed on a criminal justice forum after appeals failed, and eventually the legislature changed the law and he was removed.)

Now those are fairly extreme examples, but to push the "social pariah" in a different direction, that has long been considered a secondary consequence of incarceration. It still is, but ex-convicts are now generally received into society better than they once were. Yet, let a person be convicted of a drug offense. They may want to go straight after serving hard time or other punishment. But unless they can get their record expunged, society sets up other impediments that work to drive that person back to the drug world. The difficulty of getting work is only a minor one. The difficulty of getting a decent place to live is usually prohibitive. Homeless, or driven to ghetto living, the former addict is forced back into the environment that caused him/her to become involved with drugs to begin with.

This all points up to the fact that we require some social change as well as some major rethinking of our criminal justice system. But as soon as it is suggested, we hear cries of "social engineering" go up.
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Old December 26th, 2012, 09:51 AM   #15

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Your theory is not bulletproof, because desperation will lead to crime. There is a certain point where regardless of risk of being caught and possible punishment, a human being will throw the dice. In other words, a starving man will steal food, regardless of the punishment.
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Old December 27th, 2012, 03:40 AM   #16

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Philosopher, perhaps you might read the lead article in Rolling Stone this month on solitary confinement.. In the US today, there are 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement often for years and even decades at a time. Being placed there has nothing to do with any specific crime and as a disciplinary instrument it is often arbitrary with no rational way in or out.

Solitary confinement destroys an individual’s sanity. If this is not cruel and inhuman punishment, you tell me what is. What are you proposing, more punishment?

The US has a draconian justice system that is especially harsh towards the poor and forgiving towards the rich. With 2.5 million people in US prisons, there is plenty of punishment almost no rehabilitation.

Philosopher I must direct my response to you because it is you that posed the question in the first place.
I quote you..
Quote:
As with many other things I like to draw theories to their extremes to see if they are still fit, see if they are still working. My opinion with any theory is that for the theory to be 100 % true, it needs to be perfect under ANY conditions. I don't like half-true theories, I want all theories to be bulletproof (which no longer makes them theories, but knowledge).
This statement may be true if you are talking about physical properties of an element or a law of physics but the question is about people, different kinds of people abiding a law that may be imperfect to begin with… added to that is that people are also different.
Some people may defy the law out of contempt for it. Others may do it to survive and still others may be falsely convicted.

Consider the possibility of that marijuana may be legalized in the US.. How does the millions of prison years fit into a perfect theory?

I must agree with Patito de Hule.
Quote:
Poor initial premise. A theory is mearly a clothesline to hang your facts on to dry. Like clotheslines, some theories are better than others.
Philosopher, Your theory might gain ground in a different kind of society, (Read Orwell's 1984) Perhaps you should consider some advance courses in philosophy?
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Old December 27th, 2012, 06:34 AM   #17
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Philosopher, perhaps you might read the lead article in Rolling Stone this month on solitary confinement.. In the US today, there are 80,000 prisoners in solitary confinement often for years and even decades at a time. Being placed there has nothing to do with any specific crime and as a disciplinary instrument it is often arbitrary with no rational way in or out.

Solitary confinement destroys an individual’s sanity. If this is not cruel and inhuman punishment, you tell me what is. What are you proposing, more punishment?

The US has a draconian justice system that is especially harsh towards the poor and forgiving towards the rich. With 2.5 million people in US prisons, there is plenty of punishment almost no rehabilitation.

Philosopher I must direct my response to you because it is you that posed the question in the first place.
I quote you..

This statement may be true if you are talking about physical properties of an element or a law of physics but the question is about people, different kinds of people abiding a law that may be imperfect to begin with… added to that is that people are also different.
Some people may defy the law out of contempt for it. Others may do it to survive and still others may be falsely convicted.

Consider the possibility of that marijuana may be legalized in the US.. How does the millions of prison years fit into a perfect theory?

I must agree with Patito de Hule.

Philosopher, Your theory might gain ground in a different kind of society, (Read Orwell's 1984) Perhaps you should consider some advance courses in philosophy?
I was in fact just checking my own thread today months after I posted it, in a small hope of reading some comments that are anti-punishment.

Thank you, larkin

I am not in favor of solitary confinment. My thread was about a theoretical question that IF punishment works, why not take it to the extremes. If it does not work, which it seemingly doesn't then abolish punishment altogether and try with rehabilitation instead.
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