Can flogging save the American prison system?


First aired on The Current (15/6/11)

An American sociologist thinks that criminals charged with minor offences should be able to choose their punishment. They can opt to serve prison time or they can choose the lash.

Yes, you read that right. He wants to bring flogging back.

It may seem barbaric, but according to police-officer-turned-academic Peter Moskos, flogging is a less brutal form of punishment than prison and it's time for the U.S. to seriously consider flogging as an alternative to jail for people who commit nonviolent crimes. He argues his case in his new book, In Defense of Flogging. He believes that the American prison system has failed and that in order to rehabilitate both the system and its prisoners, America needs to look at alternatives. And the most obvious of these, he argues, is flogging. "Prison has failed at everything we've set up for it to do except warehouse people which it does, unfortunately, rather well," Moskos told The Current host Anna Maria Tremonti in a recent interview. "Flogging is cheap, honest punishment without any of the hogwash about rehabilitation."

Moskos firmly believes that flogging is preferential to a prison sentence, for two reasons. First, it allows convicted criminals to return to their homes, families and jobs, if they have them — all factors that reduce crime. Removal from a normal life, combined with the lack of resources to properly rehabilitate prisoners and the culture of prison bullying, is why prison doesn't work, in Moskos's eyes. Because society doesn't regularly see, hear or learn about what goes on inside prisons, regular citizens don't understand how difficult it is to be imprisoned — and how poorly the system serves society. "Part of what is so evil about prison is that it's out of sight and out of mind," Moskos argues. "Unless you've been in or know someone who's been in prison, you don't know what goes on in those institutions and it's not pretty. The evil really does happen behind closed doors."

Second, by allowing criminals to choose flogging, it will reduce the pressure on the overcrowded, under-resourced prison system. America has seven times more criminals in jail than it had in the 1970s (even though crime has not increased by an equivalent amount). More flogging means less people in prison, and these prisoners will have better access to resources.

There are pros. But it's still flogging we are talking about. Moskos recognizes that what he is proposing is barbaric and violent, calling it "a horrible, brutal process." But after spending years studying the criminal justice system, he believes that prisons don't work; the public doesn't realize how badly the system has failed; and flogging, while a brutal form of punishment, is a better alternative.

"I don't think it's good. I think it's barbaric," Moskos said. "I just think it's better than prison."

A Widows Story

In Defense of Flogging

Peter Moskos

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"Prisons impose tremendous costs, yet they're easily ignored. Criminals — even low-level nonviolent offenders — enter our dysfunctional criminal justice system and disappear into a morass that's safely hidden from public view. Our "tough on crime" political rhetoric offers us no way out, and prison reformers are too quickly dismissed as soft on criminals. Meanwhile, the taxpayer picks up the extraordinary and unnecessary bill. In Defense of Flogging presents a solution both radical and simple: give criminals a choice between incarceration and the lash."

 Read more at Basic Books.

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