America has more prisoners than any other country (2.3 million). We have more prisoners than soldiers; more than China — which has a billion more people than we do. So what to do? Well, author and assistant professor at John Jay College, Peter Moskos, has an answer, as proposed in his new book “In Defense of Flogging.” He wants to give convicted criminals the chance to pick between flogging (a burst of searing pain) or incarceration (which breeds criminality and destroys family ties and job prospects). Moskos pleads his case to Metro:
We’ve made strides in becoming a civil society that solves problems by discourse and ideas. And parents are aghast if you even suggest the idea of spanking. So if physical violence is introduced as an answer, don’t you worry this will reverse our advancement?
All I want to do is give convicts a choice. Given the choice between five years and 10 lashes, which would you choose? What’s the harm in offering the choice of the lash in lieu of prison? Are we afraid people would choose flogging? What does that say about prison? And I question just how civil our society is. Even after America’s great crime drop we still have a murder rate three times higher than Canada. They’ve made progress; we’re still trying to figure things out. We know prison doesn’t work, but we have no alternative.
As to spanking, I think there are a lot of good parents reading this right now who support are not aghast by the concept of spanking. Many of many students tell me they wouldn’t be in college if it weren’t for at least the threat of being of corporal punishment. The beauty of physical punshment is that it's honest. It's painful. And then it's over. That is the lesson.
And I question just how civil our society is. Even after America’s great crime drop we still have a murder rate three times higher than Canada. They’ve made progress; we’re still trying to figure things out. We know prison doesn’t work, but we have no alternative. We have seven times as many prisoners as we had in 1970 and not because we have seven times as many criminals. We've made costly and stupid choice, mostly fighting the war on drugs and making sentences longer and longer.
Some say flogging is racist and reminiscent of slavery. What do you say to that?
Prison is the true legacy of slavery. Prison guards and private prison corporations profit from literal human bondage? What could be more immoral than that? To oversimplify, but just a bit: We pay poor, unemployed, rural whites to guard poor, unemployed, urban blacks. That’s racist. Flogging is just a punishment. All I want to do is give convicts a choice in punishment — how is that racist? If flogging were so bad, nobody would choose it.
What are the chances your idea will be initiated?
The chances that we’ll see flogging anytime soon are slim to none. Ideally somebody smarter than me would come up with a third way. But if it takes defending flogging to shine a line on the evils and failures of prison, I say bring on the lash!
Follow Dorothy Robinson on Twitter @DorothyatMetro.