Monday, February 7, 2011

Flogging & Crime’s Costs to Society

Gary of Milwaukee points out in a comment to the “Empires Built With The Lash” post (Jan 31) that some states used judicial flogging up until as late as the 1950’s.  When the American Republic was founded, flogging was not considered cruel and unusual punishment because it had been in constructive employment and socially accepted for millennia.  Further, Anonymous makes a comment to the same post regarding flogging’s uses as a deterrent:  In many cases, the pain and humiliation of being trussed up, stripped, and lashed with a whip did the job nicely.”

I mention these two comments together because they raise an important issue, which we have touched upon on this blog before:  Returning to the practice of flogging as a form of punishment for civilian crimes.

Crime, by definition, is a burden to the functioning of civil society.  Long periods of incarceration have proven to be ineffective as deterrent, as evidenced by high recidivism, anecdotally due to a lack of gainful employment options post-incarceration (due to the stigma of being an “ex-con” or the loss of critical skills during confinement).  In addition to the direct social costs of criminal activity, society’s solution (incarceration) itself has proven to be a heavy burden.  Governments must divert scarce resources from important uses such as education and infrastructure and use them to construct and maintain detention facilities.  Warehousing people whose actions have already had a measurable impact on society (economic or otherwise) is a second hit to law abiding citizens, who must pay for the incarceration of criminals and receive diminished services and higher taxes in return.

I am not saying that flogging would end the need for prisons because there are very violent people who must be locked away for the good of all society.  But some offenses, such as criminal vandalism, drunk driving, and domestic violence, which often result in short periods (weeks or months) of incarceration, would better be served by seizing the men up and flogging them in front of their fellow citizens, as both punishment for their past offenses, a deterrent to further crimes, and as an example to others who believe the law does not apply to them.

Painful humiliation could do the trick—and even be a source of revenue for localities that charge a nominal fee for public admission to watch criminals take the lash.

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