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 Punishment or Correction? 
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Joined: June 15th, 2011, 10:22 pm
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Location: Bristol, UK
I read bits of the capital punishment topic. This was originally going to be a reply but I thought it made another good self-standing topic. As a pure materialist I am for the idea of determinism. By which I mean that everything about a person's actions is decided by external happenings out of that person's control. This has many implications but the most important is that put simply, an act of crime is the product of the criminal's genetics and every stimuli he/she has been exposed to since he/she was conceived.

For the reasons above consider two extreme categories of criminals. The first category are criminals that are genetically so. They do what they do regardless of the stimuli (moral teachings) they receive. Such criminals are often going to fall within the mentally-ill or non-autonomous category. I would argue that we are all 'mentally-ill' in the current sense because none of us has true free will. By mentally-ill, we really mean, 'far from the norm'. Whatever the definition, criminals on this side of the spectrum are going to have to be protected from society for their entire lives, they are too dangerous. The second category are those which have an innate morality as in the majority of us, but were brought up in the wrong way or experienced some situation which has made them the criminal they are. These are the people for which correction and rehabilitation can work. Their crimes are proof that they have been denied the resources to develop into moral people and so we must provide that for them now.

It is because of the above that the idea of punishment is over used. People either change or won't and punishment for pure punishment will not likely change that. It can act as a deterrent, true (although for the real criminals I don't think it currently does), but in general a focus on correction is needed for the second category.

So what of the middle ground? It is probably a case of trial and error. Correction followed by an assessment. If this fails then we can determine that the subject is not able to change in such a way as to become safe to society. Therefore they are clearly of the first category.

Everyone knows that the real criminals will not change so we are wasting our time with locking them up, letting them out and then locking them up again. And the criminals that can change are just being punished for nothing. We could make decent moral citizens out of them in such a short time. There are surely quite large savings to be made, along with a system that itself would be more moral.


June 17th, 2011, 6:04 pm
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Joined: July 5th, 2007, 5:53 pm
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Location: Huddersfield, England
more carrots !


June 18th, 2011, 8:50 am
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Location: cornwall
I used to know a probation officer who had worked with young people a lot. He used to put criminals in three groups. 1 Those that had got caught by the system were sent through the system sometimes a few times and the system either prison comunity service or what ever would drive the message home and they would behave find a job etc etc.
2 These were those who didn't know any better family in trouble a lot poor school record maybee dificulties in reading and writing. These he said you sometimes had a chance with if you could get them into some kind of education or training schemme and away from the influence of the family.
3 These were the carrer crooks crime was a job the legal system was an ocupational hazard to be avoided if possible. With these he said you had very little chance as they wanted to do what they were doing. Just like he was doing what he did because he wanted to. This is not an official list but a rough Idea from a man with years of experiance in dealing with troubled people.


June 18th, 2011, 9:55 am
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Joined: June 15th, 2011, 10:22 pm
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I'd say the list above echoes my categories. You have the 'no-gooders' the one's that have been failed by the system (in education, family upbringing etc.) and then the middle ground.

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June 18th, 2011, 11:29 am
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The thing is what works for one group will not work for all with the carrer crooks nothing will work untill they decide that they no longer like thetre work. With the others I think there needs more carrots.


June 18th, 2011, 12:04 pm
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Beat them with large carrots. :D

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June 18th, 2011, 3:09 pm
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AlexVocat wrote:
And the criminals that can change are just being punished for nothing. We could make decent moral citizens out of them in such a short time.


Surely you jest. There is a continuum of empathy among human beings, and a continuum of rationality. Those who have almost no sympathy or concern for others, plus a disregard for consequences, we call sociopaths - but there is a much greater number who have either enough empathy or enough sense of self-preservation that they don't become career criminals, yet may still be bad dudes who engage in crime when they are pretty sure they will get away with it. You certainly can't change someone's innate sense of right and wrong; all you can do is appeal to his own self-interest - and faced with temptation, many of those you were sure you cured will fail.


June 18th, 2011, 11:53 pm
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Quite possibly Wilson so it's something to be mulled over. For the most part though, a lean towards correction rather than pure blind punishment is - in my view - easier, cheaper and - the first two notwithstanding - of greater morality. I think back to Red's exit from prison at the end of Shawshank Redemption. "Rehabilitation is just a word you folks use so you can put a suit on and feel like you've done a good job." You can understand this viewpoint because he's been in prison for a long time. He's sorry for what he did and has been for a very long time too. Doesn't something seem unjust in this? It succumbs to the primitive emotions of the victim's loved one's. Sure I can't imagine what it's like to go through such a horrible situation and yes punishment is justified but I think there is a tendency for overkill.

On another point I think the state of prison's is appalling. They have the potential to turn a minor criminal into much worse and are in fact adding to the inmate's future problems. I think this has partly shaped my view. The idea of someone who dropped the ball for one moment being put in with serial murderers, rapists, career criminals etc. That is unjustified and counter-productive.

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June 19th, 2011, 11:01 am
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I agree that there are decent people in prison who did something out of character and got themselves in hot water. I have sympathy for them and wish there were a way to keep them separate from the real bad guys - and in the US there are minimum security and maximum security prisons - but it's far from an exact science. And I have to admit that in my opinion, rehabilitation doesn't work all that well for most prisoners. I see prisons as mainly serving the function of keeping the bad guys - career criminals and other sociopaths - off the streets, away from society, until their nastiness subsides, hopefully. And the threat of prison does have deterrent value for some people.


June 19th, 2011, 6:37 pm
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In terms of 'keeping the criminals off the street' I totally agree that this is a main part of the job for prisons but there are those that can be rehabilitated surely?

If it's a product of genetics and moral teaching (mainly through upbringing) then there must be many criminals for which we could cite upbringing as being the main cause of that criminality. Now upbringing shapes the brain itself so there may be a point where 'irreparable' negative moral teaching takes its toll but in many cases I feel it could be corrected.

In fact Bristol are taking this type of approach now, reduced or replaced prison sentences if the convict agrees to a correction program. Safeguards need to be taken obviously but I feel a great deal less re-arrests would take place under such a scheme. As you said yourself, most of the time prison is for keeping criminals off the street until they are no longer a threat. Fair enough, but the time it takes for them to cease being a threat could surely be reduced if an actual program of correction was involved, rather than just the current system of "shove 'em in there and forget about 'em" until a certain amount of time has passed. Imagine knowing you have 10 years ahead of your prison sentence but that you are genuinely sorry for what you did and would never intentionally do such a thing again. In fact I think many one-time murderers feel this way before they even begin their sentence. It makes me horrified to think about it.

I understand the argument for punishment in terms of the emotional trauma of the victim's loved ones but I think if I was in that position and I knew the accused was genuinely sorry, I would feel hard pressed to see him sent down for a quarter of his life.

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June 19th, 2011, 8:24 pm
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