Should We Flog Criminals?
Tauriq Moosa is a tutor in ethics, bioethics and critical thinking at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He is currently pursuing a Masters degree at the Centre for Applied Ethics, Stellenbosch University. He has published essays and articles on practical ethics, focusing on subjects like free expression, killing, sex, and religion in public life. He debated religion with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the BBC documentary, the Tutu Talks, and has been featured on local radio shows. He is also an avid comic book writer and reader.
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The Philosopher’s Beard (hereafter, PB) certainly thinks we should consider it:
"Many people would automatically say that such punishments are inhumane. But the very reason for this reaction - that such punishments are extremely unpleasant to contemplate - is exactly their advantage over prison time.
Flogging is barbaric and ugly. Yet that in itself does not mean it is cruel or inhumane or otherwise unfit as a punishment. Punishments, by definition, are supposed to be very unpleasant. Peter Moskos… notes that if convicted criminals were given a choice between being flogged and serving a lengthy prison term, they would probably choose the flogging (and wouldn't we all?). While one would not want to make a general principle of allowing convicts to decide their own punishments, this thought experiment is interesting because it goes against the general consensus that prison is more humane."
This is interesting, considering recent shootings, our responses to the shooters and appropriate punishment; and correctional facilities focused more on the correctional part (i.e. rehabilitation), as opposed to punishment. Considering this within the context of criminal justice, Whatton Prison in Nottinghamshire, England, focuses on chemical treatment of sex offenders, for example. Here, convicted sex offenders sign up for a course of treatment to reduce their libido, since their “addiction” for sex (with children) is, for them, beyond control.
The only problem I have with PB’s strong argument in favour of undermining large aspects of criminal justice is his defence of capital punishment. However, it is certainly one of the best defences I’ve encountered. Acknowledging that capital punishment is not the most severe punishment is exactly why it should be allowed, PB says.
However, what I struggle to accept are his/her following claims:
“(1) Execution seems to me an appropriate punishment for very severe crimes, such as certain kinds of sadistic murder (like Anders Breivik). (2) I do not suppose judicial executions are a particularly persuasive deterrent to most of the people who commit such crimes (indeed it is very hard to understand how such people look at the world). (3) Nonetheless they seem an appropriate retributive punishment.” (Emphasis added)
(1) and (3) are the same, and PB must justify why it is an appropriate punishment. Presumably, PB thinks that life-long prison-sentences are too cruel, since it is a “living tomb”. Capital punishment is not (or shouldn’t be). If we wish to be humane, we ought to simply execute people who do commit such crimes: not for deterrence but in terms of appropriate punishment. This is why execution should be allowed, instead of prison. I’m not sure how right this is, but it is certainly merits thoughtful attention.
I think there is merit to his/her thinking on capital punishment and I'm mostly persuaded by flogging. Furthermore the capital punishment explanation has shaken some of my own foundations for being opposed to the death penalty. I don’t think my arguments are as strong, now, given the overarching context and need for radical revision within our punishment mechanisms. Indeed, it is what PB calls a failure of the imagination that we default to imprisoning: even I, when opposing capital punishment, claim life-long imprisonment is a “better” option. It is precisely what “better” means that I need to start reconsidering.
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