Should flogging replace prison time?

One academic wants to empty America's prisons by resurrecting an old and controversial way of punishing convicts

It was Elvis' fictionalized punishment in "Jailhouse Rock," but flogging could actually be a solution to our crowded prisons, says one academic.
(Image credit: Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS)

Not sure you want to do those five years in prison? How about 10 lashes, instead? That's the tradeoff a U.S. academic suggests in his subtly titled new book, In Defense of Flogging. Peter Moskos, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, argues that our prison system is not only overcrowded and violent, but that it is completely ineffective. "I can't think of another institution that has failed as mightily as the prison has," he writes. As an alternative, he says, the least dangerous convicts should be given a choice — jail time, or two lashes for every year of their sentence. Moskos predicts the prison population would see a massive decline, freeing up billions of dollars for more useful purposes. Others suggest government-sanctioned violence would do nothing to reduce crime, and might even increase criminals' violent tendencies. Is flogging really our best option?

This would be a huge step backward for society: Bringing back this "correctional quackery of the past" would be really unfortunate, says David Bornus at the Star Tribune. Yes, we have a prison problem, but Moskos assumes that prisons are just violent holding cells, a theory that "has been thoroughly discredited." Unlike the "judicial brutality" he proposes, correctional facilities "expend resources for 24/7 custody, care, rehabilitation and retraining" to help criminals come back to society. Flogging would only increase their violent, angry tendencies.

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