Brave Thinkers 2011 November 2011

Peter Moskos

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Assistant professor, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
New York, New York

A criminologist—and former cop—makes the case that lashings, whippings, and beatings can heal our justice system.

In your book In Defense of Flogging, you argue that the U.S. should restore corporal punishment—you say it’s more humane than the prison system, and much cheaper.

Other than fining people—if they have money—I can’t think of a better way to punish than physical pain. I teach criminal justice, and in that field, you’re not going to find many supporters of prison. Those in the political world justify it, but it’s sickening to me that we have 2.3 million prisoners. If prisons deterred crime, we wouldn’t have so many damn prisoners. What I’m proposing is offering people a choice between prison and flogging. When I ask people what they’d choose, the vast majority would choose to get flogged—but many aren’t willing to offer that choice to somebody else. They say no, flogging is wrong. I get that, because flogging is ugly. But we don’t see what goes on in prison, and that’s dangerous. We have more prisoners than Stalin had.

Brave Thinkers 2011But don’t you worry that flogging would make us somehow more barbaric?

People say there’s a slippery slope, that we’d end up stoning people. Flogging does have a long history in America, and we don’t have a history of stoning people or blinding people. This isn’t a foreign concept that would open the door for absurd and horrible forms of punishment. I don’t think we’re going to institute flogging anytime soon, and it would make me queasy if we did. But it cuts the bullshit about prisons being good for the soul.

How much of this idea is rooted in your experience as a former Baltimore police officer?

My police background did cement for me the idea that our current system doesn’t work, and cops know that. I don’t think being a police officer changed me much, but I did see that there is a lot of suffering in the world, in terms of people being beat up. People get their ass whipped all the time. It’s a little precious to me, when I hear people who think we live in this perfect society say a little bit of corporal punishment is going to take us down the road to hell. If you’re that removed from crime, in a way, it’s hard for me to take you so seriously. If you can afford to live in an area without criminals, and you have nannies to give your kids time-outs, that’s great, but that’s not the real world.

Illustration: Anje Jager

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Alex Hoyt is an assistant editor at Architect magazine.

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