Different forms of punishment are not equally good, in either moral or pragmatic terms. I'm defining "punishment" as any response to evil behavior, regardless of what you consider its goal. I'm also going to use the word "offense" instead of "crime" to avoid making the topic sound narrower than it is. Punishment generally has the following goals:

  1. Prevent or deter future offenses.

  2. Make restitution to the victim. If we're talking about victimless offenses, then first of all the only moral option is ostracism, but putting that aside, we can substitute innocents in general for "victim" - externalities alwyas matter.

  3. Axiological retribution, if you believe in that (you shouldn't).

  4. Reform. The best outcome is an offender who will refrain from committing future offenses without having to be constantly prevented.

Imprisonment (without labor)

Is effective at prevention and deterrent, but not at all at restitution. In fact, in the context of politics, imprisonment makes negative restitution because prisoners require sustenance which has to come at the expense of innocents (taxpayers)! It also involve huge amounts of collateral damage:

What about reform? Agency is not like other things that provide happiness; it's very important to mental health and also has a special moral significance. The first mission of a penitent offender is restitution, which imprisonment prevents. Thus, as a prisoner, the more you repent, the more you suffer. Imprisonment discourages reform and denies all other opportunities for personal growth.

In conclusion, imprisonment is a terrible form of punishment and should never be used outside of some contrived hypothetical.

And it's important to reiterate that this isn't just about politics. There are other forms of this, like the "time out" often inflicted on children, and while sustenance cost doesn't apply there, everything else I said about imprisonment does.

Pain/torture

Doesn't prevent further offenses, but does effectively deter them. It doesn't make restitution, but at least it doesn't cause any further harm to innocents and doesn't actively discourage reform.

Forced labor

Although forcing labor out of an offender can require containing them, this is crucially different from imprisonment without labor:

  1. The value produced from penal labor can be given to the victim as restitution, or to the punisher to cover the costs of catching the offender.

  2. It rewards repentance by forcing offenders to experience making restitution and making diligent labor the path to quicker release.

Taking property or fines

This is very similar to forced labor, and is a lot more practical, but has the possibility of collateral damage when forced labor doesn't. If the offender has a family, the rest of them will probably feel the impact just as much, or even entirely instead of the offender (for example if the offender is a child and their parents will just replace whatever is taken from them).

Death

Death is perfect at prevention and effective at deterrent, but provides no restitution. Like imprisonment, it may cause massive collateral damage to loved ones. The main use case of death is in non-dominant situations (eg. war or vigilantism), it should not be used in a dominant situation.

Now, death does get more flak than it deserves. A lot of people have an unjustified belief that life is sacred for its own sake (rather than it being only valuable because we can do things in our lives) and that killing someone is somehow crueler or spiritually tainted in some way that life imprisonment isn't. (It kind of makes sense if you have Christian-esque beliefs about the afterlife, but not if you don't.) Even solid anarchists often have an unjustified opposition to the death penalty in which they commit noncomparative fallacy.

Exile

Exile doesn't necessarily prevent further offenses, isn't a particularly effective deterrent, and is very difficult to enforce in most situations. It also has massive collateral damage (takes the offender away from family, work, etc).

Ostracism

The only one that isn't a form of violence as it's just an exercise of one's own freedom of association. But it's still useful to compare to violent forms of punishment.

Ostracism doesn't prevent further offenses, and isn't generally a very strong deterrent (although that depends on how much the offender depends on the punisher - for example, if the punisher is the offender's parent, this could translate to kicking them out and inflicting homelessness). Ostracism is less likely to be counter-punished since it's seen as legitimate, but on the other hand, it's generally its own counter-punishment as association is mutual.



This page was last modified 2021-10-18 12:32 (UTC).

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