Friday, June 17, 2011

capital punishment

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The penal system of America needs to be reformed, as it stands now one in every Americans are in some phase of the correction system (Loven A4). The current system is failing for many reasons. In my short paper I would like to explore three of them. The first, prisons as they are run now cost too much money. The second problem when someone is punished with a prison sentence now, it not only hurts them it hurts there family as well. Thirdly a sentence in a modern prison fails to achieve its primary goal rehabilitation, I will argue the only change one receives upon release of prison is negative. My paper will look at the effectiveness of pain as a punishment for a crime. I will propose that instead of prison sentences for most crimes, we should punish a criminal act with a sentence of so many electrical shocks.

What Exactly is the Proposal?

I propose that we need to instill pain in anyone who commits a criminal act. This pain should deter future criminal acts. At first glance one would assume this pain is barbaric. It is not, it will be as humane as any other punishment, possibly more humane. Currently we sentence people to prison in a erratic unpredictable manner. One person could sit in front of the judge for burglary and receive a year sentence, another, could sit in front of a different judge and receive 5 years for a very similar offense. If we use pain as a punishment technique everything will be the same, a judge will look at the sentence of past criminals for the same crime and that’s what the offender will get. It will be swift public and just, the three things Beccaria refers to as needed for an effective deterrent. My system will result in a person being strapped to a chair and hooked up to electrodes that are capable of delivering a shock. The shock will be sufficient enough to cause pain, but not enough to cause permanent scaring.

How it Will Work

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In a great book written on this subject, Just and Painful A Case for the Corporal Punishment of Criminals, Graeme Newman explains a typical case of corporal punishment in a reformed system.

“Twenty-year old John Jefferson stands along with his lawyer, the public defender. “John Jefferson” says the judge, “the court has found you guilty of burglary in the first degree, Because this is your first offense, but the damage you did was considerable, I sentence you to ....” The judge then pushes a few buttons at his computer console. The average sentence for similar cases to Jefferson’s flashes on his display it is five shock units.

“You will be taken immediately to the punishment hall to receive five shock units. Court dismissed.”

The victim of the crime is sitting at the back of the court. He approaches the court clerk, who directs him to the punishment hall where he will be able to watch the administration of the punishment.

Jefferson’s wife and child are ushered to the waiting room where they will await Jeffersons return after he has been punished.

Meanwhile, in the punishment hall, Jefferson is seated in a specially designed chair. As part of the arrest procedure he has already received a medical examination to determine that he was fit to receive punishment.

In addition to the victim, a few members of the press are seated on the other of the glass screen. The punishment technician, having settled the offender in the chair, returns to an adjoining room where he can observe the offender through a one way screen. A medic is also present.

The technician sets the machine at the appropriate pain level , turns the dial to “5,” and presses the button. Jefferson receives five painful jolts of electricity to his buttocks. He screams loudly, and by the time the punishment is over, he is crying with pain.

The technician then returns to the offender and says “stand and walk a little” Jefferson walks around a bit rubbing his buttocks, a shade drops over the spectators’ screen.

“Do you still feel the pain?” asks the medic.

“Goddamn I sure do! But its getting better. Can I go now”

“Just sign here and you have paid your dues.”

Jefferson enters the waiting room where his wife rushes into his arms, crying, “I’m so glad it’s over! thank goodness you weren’t sentenced to prison.”

As you can see this system is humane. The offender had a medical exam to show he was fit for punishment and had a medic on the scene at all times. He wasn’t let loose until he signed an agreement saying he was ok. The amount of electricity can be regulated and scientifically proven as to its affect on the person. In other words, no one would ever die as a result of this procedure.

Why do We Need Punishment?

Our current legal system could not exist if we did not punish offenders. We have seen punishment as an essential factor in keeping society together. The reasons we punish are three fold. First it is seen as a deterrent. In theory, if we punish someone for something they won’t do it again. It is classical conditioning. If something is followed by a negative stimulus, we will only do it if it is greater than the foreseen punishment. This shows itself in all facets of life. When I was a kid my Mom made the rules, if I didn’t abide by them I would be punished. This was a good deterrent for me. I would way the weight of punishment vis-à-vis the rewards of the act. Secondly, punishment is necessary for retribution to the victim. If a victim to a crime like assault doesn’t see the perpetrator be punished, he will feel like there was no justice. You would hear him say things like “justice wasn’t served.” This leads to feuds like the Hatfields and the McCoys. I can specifically relate to this. Last month I was the victim of a peeping tom incident. My initial reaction was, “I got to get paybacks for this... I’m going to rough this pervert up.” After that, I came to my senses and realized that we have laws that will enforce this and he will be punished. I’m hoping that he will get what he deserves. The detective on the case is keeping in touch, and promises to seek justice on this case. The third reason we punish people in America is for rehabilitation. I must admit corporal punishment does not do this. However, I don’t think it is very argument provoking to say our prisons fail at this as well. In fact, our prisons most likely harden criminals. They give them time to think of bigger crimes, or they provide them with people who will participate in crime with them.

Corporal Punishment as an Effective Deterrent?

According to the general deterrence theory of punishment an effective punishment has three essential parts, severity, certainty, and swiftly (Siegel 16). This theory posits that if all three of those things are certain rational thinking criminals will avoid committing crimes. Corporal punishment offers all three of these better than the current system.

Severity is much greater than the current system because the punishment is acute pain. This is the opposite of “prison which is a chronic punishment” (Newman 15). What does this mean? Well in short a punishment that is acute, such as shock, will have a more lasting vivid impression in a criminals mind than say, three weeks in prison. This is because the pain is a more severe sense. For example, lets say you eat a bad apple. What are you more likely to remember a week of a mild stomach ache or one night in the hospital for severe food poisoning? Most people like myself would rather experience the mild stomach ache.

Certainty of punishment under my plan would be easily accomplished. This will stem from a lack of variety in sentencing. A judge will pull up on his computer screen the average number of shocks for any particular offense. This will be what the offender receives unless the judge wants to give more do to the fact that there is some extraordinary circumstances. With the incorporation of corporal punishment will come the ban of sentences such as day fines, and probation. In my system, if you are found guilty of a crime you will experience certain punishment.

The punishment of electric shock will be administered very swiftly. As soon as the judge delivers his sentence the offender will march to the shock room and receive his pain. This should take less than an hour. This is much more swift than the current system. The current system of prison, which we learned early is chronic pain, takes weeks, months, years, sometimes even a full lifetime to evolve into the punishment it is meant to be. Given here that some people still think prisons are meant to reform not punish criminals, to refute this would be a whole other paper.

Corporal Punishment is Cheaper

As we know the costs of prison are enormous. This stems from the fact that America houses more inmates than any other nation in the western industrial world. “State government expenditures have risen 5% in adjusted dollars from 17 to 188” (Durham 1). This contrasts with public schools increasing a mere 7% in their budget. The cost to hold a man in prison per day is almost 100 dollars (Durham 185).

What would the cost of corporal punishment be? I wish I could answer this question. However, my research uncovered no cost estimates. I am left to make an educated guess. It would at first cost an initial startup cost. This would be due to having to purchase new machines that are capable of administering the corporal punishment. Also, you would have to pay to train current courthouse employees on the procedure for administrating the punishment, and you would have the cost of the doctor to supervise. All in all i think a fair guess would be about 5 dollars per use. This would be considerable savings as every crime could be dealt with for 5 dollars. Currently if a man is sentenced to a year in prison that will cost taxpayers roughly 6,000 dollars. With that analogy I think it is fair to conclude that corporal punishment is cheaper.

Corporal Punishment Affects Only Offender

The current prison system is faulty in this regard. It routinely punishes those that are not guilty, of any crime, except loving someone who is. You might be wondering how a prison sentence harms the not guilty. The answer is two fold.

First, if the bread earner of the household is sentenced to a two year prison sentence, the rest of the household will suffer. That alone could put the family into deep poverty, and possible homelessness. The next part of how a prison sentence may harm innocent bystanders will be shown best with an example. I again call upon an example from Graeme Newman.

“The judge peers out over his glasses at the pathetic women who sits across the courtroom.

In a violent outburst she has just called him a heartless tyrant. The public defender and bailiff

restrain her. “Miss Washington,” says the judge. “This is your third offense you leave me no


He hesitates, expecting another outburst. Mrs. Washingtons three year old daughter sits next

to her, eyes wide and watery. The judge tries to avoid her gaze.

“Mrs. Washington, it is the judgment of this court that you be sentenced to a minimum of six

months in the penitentiary and a maximum of one year. Your daughter will be turned over to the

care of the Department of Social and Health Services, since the pre-sentence report indicates that

you have no husband or relatives that could care adequately for the child...”

The mother is led, crying, out of the courtroom. The child pulls at her mother’s skirt, crying.

But the hands of the court are upon her, and an innocent child is about to be sentenced to the state

for a crime of having a guilty mother.

As you can see, this child is adversely affected by a prison sentence. If we were to implement my plan, her mother would be free in at most a few hours. Mom would have a sore butt and hopefully, a lesson learnt that crime doesn’t pay, but she would still be able to go home and care for her child.

Prisons are Inhumane Punishment

This is an interesting argument in the fact that it reverse a common argument against corporal punishment. Many people argue that corporal punishment is inhumane. I strongly disagree. What I think to be inhumane is the fact that we sentence people to long prison stays in prisons that are overcrowded, infected with diseases and where people are subject to violence, not limited to rape.

First of all, we all know that prisons are overcrowded. I will devote little discussion to this because it is almost a given. Almost every prison in the nation is at some degree of overcrowding. This creates a hostile non-productive environment. We have all read studies about lab rats that when crammed together they get agitated and violent. Not to mention it is unhealthy. This is the same with our prisons. Inmates are forced every minute of the day to be crammed in with other cons.

This overcrowding which in itself is inhumane leads to more violence and even murder. It is not uncommon for a convict to kill another. This may be a bad example due to the disgusting nature of the individual who was the victim, but I think of how Jeffery Dahmer was murdered in a prison. He was tortured with a broom handle and left for dead. Maybe that is just in the fact he was a serial killer but for a person who’s only crime was a drug offense, it seems to me obvious, that is not right. What is really wrong in the current system is that we know this is going on but due nothing to stop it. We in a way want to inflict pain on criminals, just society as a whole feels it is immoral to inflict it themselves, so they send someone to prison to be brutalized.

Thirdly, Prisons are filled with killer diseases such as TB and AIDS. The AIDS epidemic in prison is really scary considering that 0-60% of inmates are estimated as being sexually active in prison. I tried in my research to find out how much of this is not consensual but, not to my surprise, I couldn’t find a study done on this. It is easy for me to see a person convicted of a minor theft, sent to prison for a few months, getting raped, then be diagnosed with AIDS. This in all accounts must be seen as Inhumane. It seems ironic that society is against a few pain inducing electrical shock, but in favor of sending a guilty person to a place where he may contract aids, be assaulted on an every day basis, raped, or even killed. Prison environments lead to an adverse affect on the person’s total life.

Prisons Affect Inmates Entire Life Negatively

Above I explained the horrors of our prison system. It is logical that i now explain the affects of living in this environment on an inmate once released. I see four critical, life changes that may be brought on by imprisonment. These are a negative label being applied to the person, loss of economical opportunity upon release, a hardening of the inmate, and a tendency to re-offend due to differential association.

Labeling theory is best defined by Edwin Schur who states, “Human behavior is deviant to the extent that it comes to be viewed as involving a personally discreditable departure from a groups normative expectation, and it elicits interpersonal reactions that serve to isolate, treat, correct or punish.” What this means is that a crime is an act. That act is nothing more then a mistake, however, once we punish a person we label them as a deviant, which effects their entire life. If by spending time in jail one accepts is label as deviant he will be ostracized by the public and likely to associate with other deviants, which in turn, causes him to re-offend. Once they get into this pattern they are likely to deviate their entire life.

A second life changing event caused by imprisonment, is the fact that once serving hard time, a person is limited in his financial well-being for the rest of his life. This is due to loss of job. If you are incarcerated for a year, there is little chance to have your job available when you are released. If that is not bad enough due in part to society’s labeling you as deviant you are hard pressed to find any job. Most employers do criminal background checks and if they see you have spent a year in jail, they are unlikely to hire you because they don’t know if you will be going back. Obviously, with corporal punishment the offender will be able to keep his job. This will help limit economic hardships on criminals.

When forced to live a life behind bars, you are thrusted into a literal dog eat dog world. There is always a realistic chance that someone will “shank” you from behind. If you are fortunate enough to not be attacked yourself you are likely to see someone else be attacked, possibly even murdered. This day in and day out witnessing and living violence, hardens a person. What I mean by this is that upon release ex-con’s are more likely to be violent. They are also more likely to fight until death. This stems from, if their prison sentence was long enough they will see no other way to live. It is kind of like the same effect of a war veteran who witnessed many deaths.

Lastly, is great criminologist Edwin H. Sutherland’s differential association theory. This theory looks at crime as a learned behavior. What this means is that with increased ties to deviant people you are more likely to deviate yourself. When we force an offender to serve time in prison he associates with no one else other than criminals. In other words, he has ample time to learn new crimes and how to “perfect” them. Even though he obviously, is learning from someone who “perfected” getting busted. These ties formed in prison are likely to last throughout a deviants life. He forms partners while in prison and upon release commits more crimes with those “friends.” This is a good explanation of high recidivism rates.

Should We Radically Change the System?

I must admit first that the system is designed to rehabilitate rather than punish offenders. However, where as that gotten us? I have shown that prisons ruin the lives of inmates, potentially ruin the lives of innocent family members, possibly lead to more crime, and above all are an inhumane punishment for most criminals. I propose that we try to deter crime through pain, which we know is a better deterrent, affects only the guilty, has no lasting impact on an offenders life other than distracting him from crime, and is cheaper. How can one consider the current system successful when 80% of the people think prisons don’t deter crime? (Durham 7)? What is best about my plan is that it works with a trial and error approach. We will punish people who commit a crime, with electric shock, if they chronically re-offend we can then label them as a career deviant and lock them up for good. If my plan is implemented we will be able to punish an offender to deter crime. The best part is this punishment will, unlike prison, allow a person to go on with their life and hopefully chalk up their criminal act as a excuse the expression “brain fart.”

Works Cited

Newman, G., “Just and Painful a Case for the Corporal Punishment of Criminals”

MacMillan Publishing Company 18.

Durham, A., “Crisis and Reform Current Issues in American Punishment”

Little Brown Company 14.

Beccaria, C. “On Crimes and Punishments” trans. H. Paolucci

Bobbs-Merril co. 16

Sutherland, Edwin H. “Principles of Criminology”

Lippincot 1

Siegel, L., “Criminology” 7th edition

Wadsworth 000

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