Should criminals be punished?

The faith healing parents who killed their daughter post invoked lots of interesting responses. One question that came out was whether it is right or barbaric to punish people for their actions.

There’s a part of me that wants retribution for heinous crimes. I’d like the man that rapes and murders little girls to suffer greatly. Yet there’s another part of me that says, “No, that won’t bring those little girls back. The man is sick in the head. He needs help, not punishment.”

As one commenter said:

I’m quite astonished that so many people here seem so keen to just whip these fanatics. As enraged as I am over their stupidity, there is no fine large enough or jail sentence long enough to bring that innocent child back to life. We have to work with what we’ve got, and what we’ve got are loonies that belong in the loony bin.

The loony bin is great for loonies. But what about a serial killer? Should they be thrown in there, too — putting the other loonies at risk? And if they have to be locked in a tiny cell and live miserably, is keeping them alive any better than killing them for their crimes?

Rehabilitating murderers, for instance, seems very risky though I think the goal is admirable. How can we know they’ll never kill another person? It seems that once someone decides to unjustly take the life of another person, their own life is forfeit. They have shown themselves to be a danger to society. Locking them up is an unsatisfying life for them (or should be), and it is extremely expensive for us. Capital punishment, however, could be done inexpensively and with little suffering for the murderer (which is probably more humane than they were to their victims).

What do you think? Should we punish criminals for their crimes? Or should we simply try to rehabilitate them then release them? Or should we just lock them away for life and then pay for it?

Here’s a hypothetical situation to make your answers more personal. Imagine a man rapes and kills your daughter, along with 12 other girls. What should be done with this man?

Or, as a commenter pointed out, you can change the question to elicit a conflicting emotion: If your daughter raped and killed 12 little girls, what do you think should be done to her?

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  • Yeesh… You can argue this one all ways… I guess it depends upon what you’re trying to do: Punish the crime or rehabilitate the criminal. Unfortunately, reoffending rates make it pretty clear that we’re pretty useless at rehabilitating criminals, so we’re limited to punishing them – and hopefully setting an example to others. A quick, clean death seems to me to be no deterrent. There’s no suffering. Putting child rapists and killers into the nastiest, most uncomfortable, most unpleasant jail possible for the rest of their lives, with no natural light, crappy food, brutal guards and regular torture sessions – now THAT’S punishment. Why do you think crime rates were so incredibly low in Iraq under Saddam (seriously, Baghdad was one of the safest cities in the world)? It’s because everybody was terrified of going to jail! I honestly think that society could be vastly improved by allowing our jails to seriously regress.

  • Jesse

    One reason I am be against the execution of killers is that I don’t trust our justice system to kill the right people. If evidence later turns up that exonerates someone in jail, they can be let go with an apology and restitution. Not so if we decide to execute those the courts deem guilty.


    Few people could deny that they would be filled with rage when confronted with a man who raped their little daughter. And if (hypothetically) I came upon such a loathsome individual in the act of performing such a heinous act – certainly I would do my best to immediately stop him, with no real regard to holding back lethal force.

    But does that mean I’m in favour of capital punishment? Certainly not! The act of killing a rapist in the heat of passion is my flaw – I’m human too, and like many members of my species I make sometimes make poor judgements in the heat of passion.

    There is no passion involved in executing a criminal after a lengthy court case. You can’t get a conviction based on the grief of the victims; you have to present evidence in a cold and detached manner; likewise, the execution itself will be done by the state in a similarly dispassionate fashion. And this is as it should be – state sanctioned murder is still murder, and “he started it” is something that has no place outside the playground.

    If there is no possibility of rehabilitation, then lock them up for life, taking whatever precautions are necessary so that they aren’t putting anyone in danger.

    And note that this is my opinion if you assume that you can know, with 100% accuracy, that the convicted criminal is actually guilty. In practice you can never achieve that level of certainty. In every society that has practiced capital punishment there have been innocent people executed.

    I realise that many states in the US still have capital punishment; this is almost unique in the western world. Virtually all of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and so on abolished capital punishment (at least) decades ago. This has not led to higher rates of murder and rape.

  • Why lock them up instead of killing them, if they have killed others? Why should we pay to keep them alive? Is it better to keep them alive instead of killing them — and if so, why? Would we do this with animals — that is, if a dog killed people, should we lock them in a small cell the rest of their lives, or put them down?


    Seriously? You’re asking why we should treat human beings better than animals? I’m not even sure how to respond to that – there are, after all, animal rights activists who would argue that we should definitely not give humans more rights than animals. And if I found myself talking to such an individual, I’d probably back away slowly…

    Animals are property. We eat them, we use them for hard labour, we kill them when they become inconvenient. Whether or not we should is an entirely different argument to how we should treat our own species.

    Why is it better to lock them up than kill them? For the same reason that you want to punish them in the first place – killing is wrong. Granted, so is locking someone up, but at least in that case the state is committing a lesser crime than the criminal. It’s not perfect, but we can reasonably attempt to rehabilitate the criminal.

    And again, the argument is only even tenable if you assume 100% certainty of guilt. Remove that certainty and the counter argument is trivial – alive, an innocent person can eventually be released with an apology. Dead, and the state just murdered an innocent man.

  • Andrew


    you’ve written: “Here’s a hypothetical situation to make your answers more personal. Imagine a man rapes and kills your daughter, along with 12 other girls. What should be done with this man?”

    So, here is hypothetical situation to make your thinking more personal: Imagine your doughter tortures and kills 12 small children. What should be done with her?

    Greetings, and thanks for a great blog!

  • dan

    The act of going to jail and the loss of freedom is the punishment. Once in jail, it only makes sense to try to help people be ready for their return to the outside world. While we tend to focus on the more violent and heinous crimes it is worth noting that the vast majority of prisoners are there due to lesser circumstances. For these people, some educational opportunities, some life management and social skills will give them a better chance to move forward upon release thus making them productive members of society.

    For the life in prison person, the same thing applies. The difference being they are there a much longer time and must adapt to that realization.

    The death penalty can and has been misused. There are plenty of documented cases of people wrongfully convicted based on emotions of the time. The worry is always, what if it is you that is wrongfully convicted of a heinous crime. Will your faith in an impartial justice system that looks at all the facts and provides reasonable doubt be just as strong? Without capital punishment, you have a chance of proving your innocence and getting restitution.

    In summary, a lot of people are in jail for smaller terms and will be coming back out. Lots do everyday. If we as a society can make that jail sentence their only one through their getting some support during their prison term then we will have a better society.

  • Jo

    I’ve read your blog for a while and not commented before, but felt compelled to do so now.
    I totally agree that a speedy, likely painless death is no punishment for people who’ve killed others. Prison should be tougher and criminals should be made to suffer for a long time for their actions. The only thing killing the criminal does is create more victims – the criminal’s family haven’t done anything wrong, and as much as putting the man who killed your daughter (for example) to death might feel like vindication at the time, who could live with that on their conscience? The justice system will have deprived another innocent family of a husband/father/son/brother/whatever. The fact that he’s a murderer wouldn’t make that any easier to deal with for the family and in my opinion capital punishment is letting the real ‘bad guy’ in this scenario off relatively scot-free.

    PS – interesting point I just thought of while writing this- is capital punishment a more effective deterrant when society in general is religious, ie believes in hell? Because as an atheist who doesn’t believe in any kind of life after death, quite frankly if I was in that position I’d rather be killed quickly than put in a rank, stinking prison getting beaten up until I die of natural causes (unless of course the conditions in prison are rather cushy…but that’s a whole other story!)

  • To me, I don’t see capital punishment as a deterrent. It simply ends the threat from one criminal to society. We know it’s not an effective deterrent. And I’m pretty sure there was plenty of unreported crime such as rape under Saddam’s rule. People were just more afraid of the state police than criminals.

    I don’t work in the justice field, and am very fortunate that my life has never been touched by violent crime. If it had, I might feel very differently, but for now I would have to say I am not a fan of capital punishment, unless we can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the person being executed is guilty. And even then it should be reserved for the worst sociopathic maniacs. Child molesters nearly always re-offend, there’s very little chance of rehabilitating them, and if it were my child who had been raped and murdered I think I could even throw the switch. It’s just the idea of killing an innocent person because of a mangled trial… I think I would lose my mind.

    That said, there has to be some kind of punishment system. Humans are not good at regulating their own behavior which is why we have laws at all.

  • Anon

    Daniel, to answer your question about the treatment of the killer of one’s daughter, in the most rational way:

    What we /should/ do is show the killer forgiveness and request that they not be executed although they have committed the worst human offense. Ideally, we should communicate to that person our feelings and how we still don’t think that killing them would undo their actions, nor make anybody any happier…

    What will likely happen is that our human emotion will override what is /best/ for society AND ourselves…

    However, these arguments are hard to have when everybody is emotionally charged. Knowing how each of us would personally react shows nothing other than our inability to cope with a heinous act… It surely does not show what is /best/ for everyone. (Including the killer)

  • I’m opposed to capital punishment for a number of reasons. While I feel strongly that no-one would miss a Ted Bundy or Paul Bernardo, I also think that pulling the trigger, pressing home the plunger, or throwing the switch makes us, as a society, no better.

    Life imprisonment seems like the best option we’ve got. The most just option might be death, but it’s irrevocable, and has a negative effect on a society that is trying to delinieate itself as strongly as possible from a murderer.

    In most surveys, support for killing killers drops to about a third if one of the options is a life sentence without hope of parole or release before death. And while the current setup in Canada used to sometimes leave us in a situation where “life” didn’t always mean “life,” I’m still a lot happier with that.

    So are Donald Marshall, David Milgaard, and Guy Paul Morin, and particularly Steven Truscott.

  • Okay, I’m seeing your points.

    Capital punishment is cheap and simple, but it may not deter people as much as brutal prison. And it can happen to an innocent person and there is no reversing it. But I don’t really see how a brutal prison is any more humane than a lethal injection. Otherwise, you have a comfort prison, which isn’t a deterrent.

    Torturing someone for the rest of their lives would be a deterrent. Does that mean we should do it?

    @Andrew: That’s a great reversal of the question, and sends emotions to the opposite direction. Love it.

  • Proto

    Seeking to punish wrongdoers is petty and irrelevant. It offers no benefit to society, other than perhaps mildly sating the blood lust of the enraged. Criminals should be rehabilitated when possible, isolated when not.

    Attempting to deter crime via harsh punishments is somewhat backwards, especially when history tells us it failed (18th Century Britain deporting people for stealing bread didn’t ‘solve’ crime). Surely even the most ‘moral’ people would steal if the alternative would be starvation.

    A more effective, and humane, solution would be to target the root social causes of crime.

  • toasterferret

    Well, one point that has been brought up is: “Why should we pay to keep people incarcerated for life?”

    Take a look at this article:

    It shows that keeping a convict on death row and then executing them costs exponentially more than life in prison.

    Granted, the issue of overpopulated jails may come up at some point, but even then, building and staffing more jails would certainly be the cheaper option.

  • andrew

    Capital punishment is a hard one. But I think(and tentatively) I’m for it. Especially, if my family members are harmed.

    Looking at the bigger picture…maybe rehabilitation should be evaluated case by case for those that commit heinous crimes.

    BUt for the faith healing parents in this case…I think prison is a good option. Is it possible/ethical to not let them have kids? Just an idea…

  • For that particular case, I certainly wouldn’t advocate the death penalty because they did not kill purposely. It was neglect, really. I think rehab might be possible for them. Keeping them away from those crazy churches would be a start.

  • Proto

    @ andrew,

    What if your family members harmed others?

  • Proto said:

    “A more effective, and humane, solution would be to target the root social causes of crime.”

    That’s a lovely sentiment, when you’re dealing with rational people of good conscience with an innate sense of morality. The sad fact is there are people who enjoy committing crimes, even when there is no base need for it. Deep down we are all animals, with all the basest instincts. We train animals in various ways, some of which involve great discomfort for the animal (ever use an “invisible fence” to contain a dog? or a correction/choke collar?). We learn by having our actions result in discomfort in some form or other. Imprisonment is one.

    There will always be people who choose to commit crime simply because they enjoy it. They like the rush, they like the idea of living outside the law. There have been many cases of rich kids committing crimes. What’s their motivation? They’re not simply stealing to feed themselves. The Menendez brothers murdered their wealthy parents out of greed. Simply satisfying basic needs like food, shelter, clothing will never be enough to eradicate all crime.

  • John

    People in favor of capital punishment seem to believe it’s possible to know with 100% certainty that a particular person has committed a particular crime.

    The truth is, such certainty is impossible. What if someone raped and murdered by daughter, you ask? Well, on earth do I even *know* that the accused was the one who did it?

    As long as knowledge is imperfect, capital punishment will come at the cost of innocent lives.

  • John

    Dammit, I should not type while eating.

    Should be “…MY daughter” and “Well, HOW on earth…”

  • Alison Robin

    If my daughter did something so terrible, they would be dead to me.
    I wouldn’t care what they did to her after that.

  • Sunny Day

    Killing is wrong.

    It is always wrong.

    Sometimes it may be the only choice available, but it is still the wrong answer.

  • Yvonne

    I do not like capitol punishment because the risk of killing an innocent person outweighs any benefit of killing a guilty one–even if we didn’t spend as much money on the upkeep of a death row inmate, or if it was a speedier route from trial to death.

    Prisons are, now, also a great way for small-time offenders to learn the skills necessary to become big-time offenders. The violence and abuse which occurs in a prison can make a petty crook a hardened criminal.

    And if that weren’t bad enough, now we put children into that situation.

    If my child were killed, emotionally I would want to rip out the heart of the offender with my bare hands. I do, however, also have a brain, and I know that preventing any other harm would be the number one priority. If the person is likely to commit another crime, then a life sentence–or a long sentence–would be best.

    I think we, as a society, need to offer rehabilitation at earlier ages and first offenses, and provide a prison system that offers some safety to the inmates. I also think that prisoners should have to work for their keep, and perhaps even learn a trade while in prison.

    And then, we need to hire them and let them live next door. When people come out of prison disenfranchised, it encourages recidivism.

  • When discussing this issue, many people fail to separate the different rationales of justice; I’m surprised but pleased to see that’s not really happened here. Justice can and/or should serve various purposes:

    1) Punishment of offenders to deter them from re-offending / others from offending. We know from comparative studies that Capital Punishment has no deterrent effect. Obviously it prevents re-offending! The big problem is of course that it’s irreversible. Incarceration can sometimes completely lack the punishment effect depending upon the degree of “human rights” implemented by the prison system.

    2) Protection of Society from dangerous individuals. Incarceration obviously does this (subject to the risk of escape, early release, clerical error), as does Capital Punishment, subject to getting the right person. Taxpayers spend a lot of money to keep people in secure and humane conditions, and I sympathise with Daniel’s questions about it being cheaper to dispose of the most serious and most unequivocally guilty offenders.

    3) Rehabilitation of offenders. Incarceration and community sentences have an element of this. The effect is variable; with proper treatment drug abusers for example can significantly reduce re-offending. The Dame says child molesters have a high re-offending rate. Is anyone able to point us to some studies on that?

    4) Retribution / Reparation to the injured parties. When a child is murdered, it is not only the child that is hurt. The immediate and extended family are obviously affected; there is an effect on the local community and wider society – this is why children are now ferried everywhere in cars by paranoid parents to expensive play-joints whereas in my day (listen to me, getting old!) we were sent out of the door after breakfast and told to be back in time for meals for the whole summer. Child rape, kidnap and murder are no more prevalent than they ever were and children as still most at risk from people they know and trust, but society has been changed and fragmented by these perverts.

    My point (at last, they say) is that these purposes are not synergistic – there is a trade off between them. I believe that prisons in the UK are too soft on some offenders and and being used unneccessarily on others.

    I instinctively feel, as some of you clearly do, that we should treat humans differently from animals but I believe it’s just that – an instinct. I’ve heard Humanists (Dawkins particularly) argue that there is a basic human set of values that overrides selfish survival-of-the-fittest exploitation of other humans. This appears to be evolved, and it appears to vary. There appears to be a centre-left consensus in Humanism and much of atheism that believes that because I am also an atheist, I must agree with their whole political and moral standpoint.


    I do not accept the received argument that execution makes society as bad as a murderer. You would not conflate someone who killed in genuine self-defence with a murderer. Execution should be societal self-defence, but yes it should be cold.

    I’ve gone on far too long. Thanks for raising the topic, Daniel.

  • andrew

    Re: Proto

    It depends on what they did. But if they harmed others in such a way that severely destabilizes society like murder….capital punishment should be implemented.

  • Jim

    Killing people is brutal–under any circumstances. How many of you people who favor government-sanctioned killing have ever watched it happen? Even the hanging of Sadaam Hussein should not be looked upon with anything but abject horror. A government should not commit these brutal acts under any circumstances, and the government that DOES, teaches its constituents (and other countries) that brutality is acceptable under certain circumstances, but it isn’t.

    Two good movies to watch that will bring this to the fore: “Dancing in the Dark,” and the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” part of Kieslovski’s Decalog series (It’s polish, with subtitles.)

  • Ty has some information on sex crime recidivism.

    Part of what clouds any discussion regarding punishment and rehabilitation is the strong desire among humans to believe that no human is beyond help. That no matter how brutal their crimes, every person has the capacity for redemption and rehabilitation. We have an instinctive aversion to the idea that a human can be irreparably broken.

    I would recommend Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes as an excellent book for examining the idea of fundamentally broken humans, and the possibility of reforming or rehabilitating them.

    The sad truth is that because of the way our brains form during early childhood, it is entirely possible for a person to be so psychologically damaged by the time they reach adulthood that they are literally incapable of interacting with society. There are people who have been ‘violentized’ to the point that they actually can not understand why violence is not an acceptable method of dealing with their frustrations.

    This is also true of sexual crimes. Most of the sexual impulses that lead people to illegal sexual activity: attraction to children, the need for violence or dominance in sexual release, etc, are established in very early childhood, long before the person is even aware of them. Unfortunately, brain and psychological development in young humans is at best a sort of ad hoc process with a lot of places where things can go wildly wrong.

    One study showed that something as simple as a two year old boy lying on his belly while his mother stomped on a bug can lead to a lifelong stomping fetish. The man with the fetish is shocked when he actually remembers that initial event. To him, he just ‘always felt that way’, much in the same way that gay or straight men just ‘always’ knew which naughty bits excited them.

    But when faced with the contradiction of our social need to believe that no one is beyond saving, and the contradictory fact that there are indeed people who are broken in ways we currently do not know how to fix, we find these uncomfortable discussions. What do we do with people who can not meaningfully interact with society without presenting a great danger to those around them, and in fact will NEVER be able to do so? Especially given that we can not predict with 100% accuracy who those people are?

    It’s a complex question.

  • So, you suggest we should have capital punishment to keep costs down? If you ask me that’s a disgusting idea.

  • @Esther: No, that’s not my logic at all. I’m suggesting capital punishment because I don’t see why brutal prison would be any more humane (in fact, I think it might be less). I mentioned cost because I’m assuming it would be cheaper to give a lethal injection than keep someone locked up for the rest of their lives (if not, it should be).

    But I’m not being dogmatic — really I’m asking questions, not giving answers. Sorry if that disgusted you.

  • nitiniu

    I do acknowledge the part of me that just wants to slash some people up into little shreds. Not the parents that were so mislead and ignorant that they killed their daughter, but of course I really hate people that don’t care about lives of others, and might let people die or have people killed for their reputation, profit or fun.

    But I also believe greatly in what’s functional. That means something that costs money without giving any positive effect (like prison) is a bad idea. On top of that society as a whole will be defined by the social systems that we put in place.

    Today there are many places that openly resolve the case of A BAD HUMAN by shutting those things down by frying them or causing their cells to fail with poison. Well, some places use more straightforward techniques such as the rope or the rock. Some places like mine prefer to put really troubling people that happen to be smart enough to evade the penal system down in the dark.

    But it obviously doesn’t work. What seems to determine the prevalence of psychos is how safe their environment is and if they are allowed to grow. I know it sounds really corny but I think the people that a person interacts with has a significant effect on what you behave like, psycho or not. That’s where we should begin (and that should of course include the social system).

    But we will of course get more senseless murderers, and here comes the point with rehabilitation. You don’t do it out of charity, even if you keep it as open as possible for the person in question. You do it because if you can turn a senseless murderer into a thoughtful human, then you’re on your way into preventing people from becoming murderers in the first place. And that should be our ultimate goal.

  • I see. I have never liked the argument that we should put criminals to death simply to save money. Furthermore, it’s been a while since I’ve studied our justice system, but I do remember reading that we would not save a significant amount of money by putting to death the few people who would get the death penalty as compared to the many who would serve lesser sentences.

    It’s interesting to read all the hypothetical ideas from so many people who have probably (I could be wrong) not been the victim of a crime. But I have been victimized. In my opinion we should get the criminals off the street once they’ve committed a crime and been convicted. I do not think they should be put to death — even in the scenario you described. I think life without parole (or perhaps several life sentences) would make more sense. When someone has hurt another person that much there is no death that could possibly punish the criminal enough. That is why we have an impartial system of laws to mete out punishment in the first place. There is just no way for the one who did the harm to feel or understand what he or she did to the person who was victimized.

    I don’t believe capital punishment is a good idea because I believe that God’s grace was extended to all people. If I were to say we should kill the one who committed the crime then I would essentially be saying that sometimes God’s grace does not apply and there is no possibility of redemption. That would be wrong.

  • Jimminy Christmas

    In my opinion, the tendency of some people towards violence and criminality is a mental illness brought on by a combination of extremely complex genetic and environmental/social factors. I think the only way to truly “rehabilitate” someone like this would be if we could reprogram their mind.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know if we will truly be able to rehabilitate the types of people who willfully engage in these sorts of behaviors until we have a much better understanding of how the human brain works, and the technological means to alter their brains in a beneficial manner towards a more “normal” state (whatever that state is).

    Until then, the only option we really have is to be as minimally barbaric as possible, while still removing criminals from society (whether it be through imprisonment or death).

  • Baka

    I’ve really enjoyed reading the opinions expressed in this thread. Thanks to Daniel for posing the question and to all the commenters for giving their thoughtful answers.

    Over the last decade or so I have changed my stance on the death penalty from a “they should die in as painful a way possible” stance to one more akin to Dave a few comments above. I’m sorry to say to the death penalty opponents on the thread that I’ve yet to be convinced that a humanely carried-out execution of a person fairly convicted of extremely heinous crimes is ethically equivalent to (for instance) the rape and murder of their victims.

    The only thing that gives me pause is the argument that some have brought up pointing out the less-than-perfect record the justice system has for convicting the right person. I tend to place a very high value on freedom, too, though … and feel that wrongful imprisonment is an equally horrid violation of the rights of an innocent person.

    In other words, if the only saving grace for preferring life in prison over death is that it’s reversible … that’s a bitter consolation. It seems that a person who argues in this fashion has more of a beef with a corrupt and imperfect justice system than with any specific punishment.

    In closing, I agree most closely with Daniel’s analysis. To keep a criminal in a torturous prison for the rest of their life is an affront to the requirements of human treatment that any good society should strive for. To keep them in a comfy prison, on the other hand, is no deterrent at all, nor does it extract any justice, retribution, or closure for society and the surviving victims of the crime. A humane death, in that extremely small percentage of crimes that warrant it, seems a reasonable alternative that salvages as many of positives out of a terrible situation as possible.

    As I said at the beginning of this already-too-long comment, my opinion has substantially softened over the years, and may yet see me change sides entirely (though right now I don’t think so). Therefore, I really enjoy reading the different arguments put forth on the topic and will watch this thread with interest.

  • peacefrog999

    1. In response to GAZA: It’s so easy for one to say animals are property, we can kill and eat them – because we don’t view them as humans, and what we don’t view as human we either think lesser of or insignificant. WWII – German Nazis viewed the Jewish as vermin/rats – therefore it was okay to kill them. The same is seen in all genocide and wars through the decades, around the world. What we view as animals or “others” we deem okay to punish or kill. Because they are not human, they have no heart or soul. Does your dog not show excitment when you come home from work or a trip? Do they not cuddle close to you when you are sad? Just because animals are not as intelligent as us (though dolphins are shown to have developed reasoning) does not mean they are lower than us. And as a conservationalist, killing many (genocide) of an animal species disrupts the ecosystem. Killing off of a species of birds can lead to over representation of an insect species that can completely devestate crops or spread disease – genocide of an insect species can lead to over representation of a certain bacteria that they feed off of, which can lead to the same problems (as seen with the potatoe famine of the 1840s – caused by a mold inflicting disease umong potatos). This same mindset of animals as lower species is the same mindset used by leaders of mass genocide and population destruction.

    2. Because we view criminals as “others,” our criminal justice system punisheses based on crime and not based on the character of the person who committed the crime.

    A) A schizophrenic shoots a neighbor. The schizophrenic claims the neighbor was stalking him/her, writing him/her threatening letters, and was scared for his/her life. One day the schizophrenic is outside and perceives the neighbor (who is trimming his bushes) to be plotting a conspiracy to kill him/her. The schizophrenic shoots the neighbor. It is later discovered the neighbor had been away on a trip prior to cutting his/her bushes and had not been around to verify the schizophrenic’s story – the suspect imagined it all. Should the schizophrenic be locked up? He/she has reason in their own mind – even if it would be unacceptable to one of healthy mind. Someone like this should receive treatment/threapy for his/her schizophrenia.
    Example: John Hinckley, Jr – Regan assassination attempt due to basing a warped reality on the movie Taxi

    B) Same story, but a serial killer who has previously killed 10 other people kills a person. At trial he/she shows no remorse for their killings. After about 10 years in prison – still no remorse. Why are we shelling out money to keep people like this alive until they are 80? People like this should receive capital punishment. We could be spending this money on low income schools (better the schools to lower drop-out rates) and helping keep kids off the streets, which brings me to…
    Example: “I just liked to kill, I wanted to kill, “What’s one less person on the face of the earth, anyway?,” Ted Bundy.
    ^While Ted Bundy received capital punishment – many in jail that show the same lack of emotion/remorse are still in jail, they just aren’t bombarded by media like Ted Bunday was, because he was considered a “smart, intelligent, handsome” individual.

    C)…A kid joins a gang and is pressured into killing a man in order to be innitiated into a group of his/her “peers.” The kid doesn’t want to kill the man, he/she doesn’t know what he/she’s gotten themselves into, but if they don’t kill that man, they’ll be killed by the gang for not following through. This type of outline covers most of the repeat offenders. We spend money to put them through jail and they end up back on the streets anywhere from a few weeks/months for pretty crimes to 25+ years for murder. Lots of these crimes are committed out of convenience (buglary/theft) or fear (fear of being killed). Jail offers no source of rehabilitation because they only communicate with those in their similar situtation or meet those in other forms of crimial business (drug trafficing/alcohol abuse) and either return to their old lifestyle (or otherwise be killed, if they belong to a gang-like group) or change to a similar lifestyle (drug-trafficing) that seems easier. These people don’t have much education, can’t read or write, and are likely to have no chance at getting a job because of these handicaps. Therefore jail offers no deterrent – it’s just a means of their lifestyle. These people need to be punished by some sort of jail, but ALSO need a means of rehabilitation through schooling – jail alone will not reshape them into “model citizens.” Most of these offenders are drop outs of school and society – putting them through jail just makes them even more of a social outcast.

    D) Same aspect above goes for drug trafficing offenders – drug trafficing is a form of criminal grouping similar to gangs, and offenders would need the same form of education and protection.
    Note: Many leaders of these gangs may fall under the serial killer form of punishment – many do not show remorse for their actions, they only care about being ahead of the other groups and exercising control on others (this does not apply to all gang leaders though).

    E) Two men are drinking and heavily intoxicated – they get into a fight and are among a group of people. Neither want to back down for fear of looking “less of a man.” One punshes/cuts (with a knife) the other so severely, the more injured is rushed to the emergency room and dies due to internal bleeding/massive bleeding. While this man claims he was unaware of his actions and is distraught that he killed another human being – our criminal justice system punishes this guy for homicide by negligence (also the type of offense that drunk drivers get), and gets a few years in prison. Why? We aren’t punishing him because he is an “other,” he deserves punishment because of his lack of responsibility – jail in these terms acts as a deterrent because we hope the offender learns from his mistakes and becomes a more mature adult, it also tries to deter others from making the same mistake.

    F.) You find your wife/husband cheating on you with another person. In a fit of fury you grab a gun/knife and kill your spouse. Either you call the police and confess (which usually happens in this case) or you hide it/lie and the police somehow find out by other means. In both cases, you may show immedicate remorse or still feel your spouse deserved it. Either way, you go to prison for many years – this type of deterrent I find justified because the person can still lead a life after they are released from prison (granted the sentencing is reasonable – they are not sentenced over 30 years). Here it is hoped that the person imprisoned learns from their selfish outburst – they cannot merely kill someone when they feel like it (a more mature way of handling the problem would be divorce) – and we hope they feel remorse for their actions.
    Sadly, this form of punishment is carried out on people fitting the descriptions A-D and we give this general punishment to the other offenders, not realizing that their needs for rehabilitation is much different.

    I also find imprisonment of anything over 50+ years w/o parole ridiculous. If the people of a jury or the court feels someone should go to prison for life w/o parole – what’s the point? Millions of tax dollars are spent per year to keep people like this in prison – if the law feels the person is such a danger – they might as well put the person to sleep and spend the money on education! Keeping those fitting description C and D off the streets, educating them to make better decisions – to be able to support themselves and their families, which thereby reduces their need to commit crimes and become a victim of crime due to their poverty and ignorance.

    So all in all – the punishment should fit the person and their story for committing the crime – not the crime itself.

  • peacefrog999

    And not all prisons are brutal – in federal prison they get television, decent food, exercise time, sometimes a library, etc.
    And many more incentives than state prisons

  • peacefrog999

    Also, for those not aware of prison costs. Approximately $22,650 per year is spent to keep 1 person in prison – which is about $62.05 per day.

    Complements of the Bureau of Justice Stats

  • revivar

    Should capital punishment be favored?

    Violence are defined differently depending on where you’re from. Here in Asia, certain countries are still practicing whipping and castration. Westerners might see it as violent and barbaric. We’re not as primitive albeit most of us are categorized as 3rd world. It’s just that we had already accepted that you HAD to pay (almost) equally for what you’ve done.

    In a particular middle-east country, shops are left opened even when the owner goes out for lunch. There won’t be theft, because the punishment for stealing will be limbs dismemberment. Effective as hell, but too brutal for the “civilized”.

    Pardon me for the dry and blatant comment.


    peacefrog999: I believe that I can call “Godwin” on this. :)

    Nonetheless to address your point: it is a defensible position that we should extend animals some or all of the rights we extend human beings. It’s a point that I disagree with, but I don’t deny it is a defensible position.

    The problem is that with rights come responsibilities. If you want to say that my killing your dog is the same level of crime as my killing your daughter – which is the logical extension of your argument – then I will turn around and say that the dog must attend school, will be prosecuted for urinating in public, and can be prosecuted as a sex offender for humping my leg. I suppose you could claim that your dog counted as a minor, but at the very least such offenses committed by a human child would probably involve some sort of foster care.

    It’s not really “fair” for animals, I grant you. They get to be eaten, experimented on, and enslaved just because we are the dominant species. But I think it trivialises the very real crimes committed against human beings – historically and currently – by claiming that having a pet dog is morally equivalent to owning slaves, or that killing cows for beef is morally equivalent to the Holocaust.

    But I’ll make you a deal. If we ever manage to start treating our own species properly, then I’ll be first in line to start considering the petitions of other species. Cool? :)


    Just to throw my 2c in: I find myself in disagreement with those who claim we should avoid capital punishment because locking someone up is harsher.

    The only motive for choosing punishments based on how much they hurt is revenge. And an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

    Individual humans are frail and we do occasionally fall prey to our vengeful natures; as a society we should try to be better than that.

  • peacefrog999


    But I’m not saying killing a dog is the same as killing a daughter – That was to merely show a level of affection among us and animals, just to refute your claim which sounded so cold blooded “Animals are property. We eat them, we use them for hard labour, we kill them when they become inconvenient.” Many Americans would consider such acts barbaric among domesticated animals, why? we view them differently than say cows and pigs. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally game for bacon and a hamburger)

    What I’m getting at is just because animals are…well, animals, doesn’t give us a right to kill them just because – say the endangered bald eagle.

    Animals such as cows do not fit into this mold – because they certain cattle are raised for the sole purpose to one day become eaten – we may never have to fear a endangerment of beef cattle.

    But to make a sweeping generalization that animals are our property and can be killed just because (thinking about dolphins, tigers, pandas, cheetahs, meercats, zebras, etc.) is a bit ridiculous – For example – a tiger property? I bet my life if you and it were alone in a jungle, it would own your ass.

    “by claiming that having a pet dog is morally equivalent to owning slaves, or that killing cows for beef is morally equivalent to the Holocaust.” – actually, that’s the reverse of what I said, there is no moral equivalence to dogs and owning slaves – it is the exact comparison of such things (not comparing dogs to people but comparing people to animals), which leads one (Hitler or Kambanda) to troublesome acts among the human race. This same mindset is the premise for what I describe later – we seek to punish those that we deem as “others” because it is easier to feel justified in the end.

  • As many studies show, harsh sentencing is no deterrent against hideous crimes. Crime rates have a lot to do with social situation, cultural aspects, and upbringing. The prospect of harsh punishment doesn’t prevent crimes. On the contrary, there seems to be a correlation between a country’s sentencing and crime rates – harsh sentences seem to coexist with high crime rates.

    I’m of the firm opinion that justice needs to be devoid of emotion. Punishment is an emotional instinct, a barbaric urge left over from our medieval mindset. It is a dangerous emotional urge that we need to suppress and overcome if we’re ever to be a truly civilized society. We shouldn’t punish anyone – we should apply justice.

    If a criminal is very likely to regress and commit more crimes, we need to protect society against him and lock him up. If a criminal can be rehabilitated, we should have the proper rehabilitation programs to facilitate that and allow the criminal to become a productive member of society once again.

    This will never be a full proof system, some rehabilitated criminals will regress. But this is a necessary part of a civilized society that treats all of its citizens, criminals and otherwise, as human beings. Just because someone committed a crime, it doesn’t validate us throwing out all of his basic human rights.

    How would I respond if someone murdered a loved one? Would I want that person to suffer? Probably. But I hope that my rational sense of decency will prevail and that I can accept the course of justice. Not punishment.

  • Addendum after reading some of the comments: capital punishment requires a flawless justice system. You can only morally justify killing criminals if there can never be any doubt whatsoever about their guilt.

    However, justice is a system built by humans. It is and always will be a flawed system. Thus I believe capital punishment can never be properly applied and should be abolished. To kill your own citizens without absolute, undeniable proof of their guilt is obscene, morally bankrupt and despicable.

    There are way too many cases of American citizens executed by their government for a crime they did not commit.

  • Addendum 2 (sorry to spam this blog with comments): Charles Platt wrote a gripping article about the American ‘justice’ system that is very relevant to this debate:


    peacefrog999: We’re in danger of derailing here.

    But while killing a bald eagle or killing your neighbour’s dog (or whatever) is indeed a criminal offense, it’s NOT treated as murder. Classifying animals as property isn’t intended to be cold blooded so much as realistic. I own four cats myself, and I’d be terribly upset if any of them were killed for someone else’s amusement, but it’s not the same as if my wife or one of my brothers was killed.

    Endangered species are property in the same sense that public buildings are property – nobody in particular owns them, but it’s still a crime to kill them (or deface them – you see what I mean).

    As for owning wild animals – again, collective ownership applies. Assuming it’s not an endangered species or otherwise protected (which tigers are, I believe), you can often hunt them legally. In Australia we kill kangaroos and rabbits in large numbers, even taking to using biological warfare against the latter.

    I wasn’t comparing people to animals; Daniel first brought it up (asking why we would put down a dog and not a human). I merely pointed out that the way we treat animals is different to the way we treat humans – in my original response I didn’t actually impose a judgement on that one way or the other, just stated it as a fact (and it is, undeniably, a fact – there is only one species that the killing thereof constitutes murder; only one species that is legally allowed to own property, get married, etc.)

    I realise that similar reasoning has historically been used to justify mistreating human beings by claiming that they are somehow inferior, but I would argue that the reasoning is only similar, it is not identical. Splitting hairs? Arguably, and you could certainly question whether I’m motivated by my desire to continue eating beef and chicken, but the other extreme – granting fish voting rights – is equally ludicrous.

    If you want my opinion on whether that is morally justifiable or not, then I guess I’d fall back to suggesting that if it can be shown that animals (of any species) are shown to have a majority of members capable of rationally participating in the same rights and responsibilities that we as humans enjoy, then I say let them in. If we start producing genetically modified dogs that can talk and reason, or if we produce functional machine intelligences, then my feeling is that they should be entitled to all the rights and responsibilities that human beings have. If you put any stock in transhumanism, this is a debate that we WILL have to have sooner or later.

  • Baka:

    In other words, if the only saving grace for preferring life in prison over death is that it’s reversible … that’s a bitter consolation. It seems that a person who argues in this fashion has more of a beef with a corrupt and imperfect justice system than with any specific punishment.

    It’s not a “beef”, it’s just a fact. And it’s got nothing to do with corruption – even if everyone involved was honest, mistakes would still be made. Don’t you acknowledge that?

    So, pragmatically, mistakes will be made, everyone knows it, and we should limit the harsh consequences of those mistakes. It’s a choice between a justice system in which a few innocent people get incarcerated, vs. a system in which a few innocent people are murdered.

  • @ Daniel:

    Brutal prison should be less humane than capital punishment. That’s why I suggested it. The question you have to ask yourself here is this: What is more important? The rights of one criminal who has commited heinous crimes, or the wellbeing of an entire society which can be partially protected by making an example of that criminal?

    To me, the commision of any premeditated violent crime for any reason but demonstrable self defense should result in a loss of all of the rights which are granted you under law. If you choose to abdicate your legal responsibilities, why should that same law protect you? I’m a great believer that we’re all born equal; your choices in life, however, can make you inferior.

  • Dwayne L

    What do you think? Should we punish criminals for their crimes? Or should we simply try to rehabilitate them then release them?

    Why can’t we do both? And don’t give me excuses like, “there’s so much crime in jail that it hardens people”—we could fix that if we really wanted to.

  • Pedro Godfroid

    With a perfect justice, we could maybe consider the question. But, as it is not, it’s inadmissible. At least for me.

    And I think punishment is only justifiable as a deterrent. If it works and that’s not proved.

    Thus I think jail must fulfill 2 functions. Rehabilitate criminals. And keep those who cannot or will not away from society to protect the citizens from those criminals.

    Problem is, jails are also far from ideal, especially in countries like the USA where it’s a business for profit. So we must be very careful that jails are used to rehabilitate criminals and not as crime academies.

  • Aor

    Often people’s opinions of the death penalty are based on a specific version of it rather than the general concept. Some may say they hate the death penalty when what they truly mean is they hate the current version of the death penalty as enacted by various American states.

    Take things to the most basic level. There are some crimes so heinous that death is the only acceptable solution. Perhaps a serial killer who kills dozens of people and confesses so that all doubt of guilt is removed, or terrorists who kill thousands and brag about it, again removing all doubt of guilt. In those situations relatively few people disagree with the possibility of death as a punishment. However the version of the death penalty in some American states, and in certain other nations where it exists, is applied more more generally. The death penalty may be considered if you kill a cop, even accidentally, or simply because it was your third felony, or for criticising a religion or for playing soccer while posessing a vagina.

    My point is, its not the penalty but the rules regarding when and where and to who that penalty can be applied that many people disagree with. Personally I find the American death penalty to be vastly overused but I cannot justify opposing it because as a rational person I must accept that there are situations where it is the proper solution. Consider this case: .

  • In either hypothetical situation, there is a “subject” who has irreperably harmed (till death) innocent people who had rights which were violated in the act of murder by the ( “convicted- did you say?”) killer..
    You ask “Should we punish them for their actions?”
    Yeah. How? Well, we have laws on the books in the jurisdictions where the crime(s) were comitted. Follow the laws in THAT jurisdiction. That’s how we roll.

  • Aor

    Congratulations on completely missing the point.

  • LNIngram

    Once someone’s in jail for life, either they’ll pay for their crimes with death, capital punishment, or you pay for it, by keeping them alive indefinitely. Ask yourself if you’re willing to give every murderer in the country $1 every year, to keep them alive.

    If you’re not, you should support the death penalty.

    It’s as simple as that.

  • Aor

    So you simply don’t care whether a person is innocent or guilty, once they are in jail for life you want them dead? You won’t allow any consideration at all for the many instances of innocents being on death row?

  • Sunny Day

    “Ask yourself if you’re willing to give every murderer in the country $1 every year, to keep them alive.”


  • Black steve

    For one thing, criminals should be rehabilitated but there is
    a point where people need to draw the line. Routine prison
    inmates should immediatly be executed, it’s painfully
    obvious their not going to change. We need to remember
    that the point of the justice system is to decrese crime not to seek revenge and most hardend criminals are to selfish
    to change for reasons other then fear. Besides, money
    that would have been wasted caring for the criminal could
    be spent on medical advancements and saving lives.
    Criminals had their chance and wasted it, for the benifit of
    society they need to executed. I personally believe that a
    crime such as rape ought to merit the use of the death
    penelty, the goal isn’t an eye for an eye, its decrese crime
    and with all those criminals dead society can only benefit.

  • Black steve

    Sunny Day I recently read your comment about killing being
    wrong, I could not agree more; however, are we to allow
    dangerous people to live off the money of the innocent? We need to make the personal sacrifice of killing in order to
    help our fellow man.

  • Sunny Day

    “Sunny Day I recently read your comment about killing being
    wrong, I could not agree more; however, are we to allow
    dangerous people to live off the money of the innocent? We need to SACRIFICE OTHER PEOPLE to help our fellow man.”

    Fixed that for you. It makes your intentions more clear. The killing of other people is never a PERSONAL sacrifice.

    I would rather have a guilty murderer live than an innocent person put to death.

  • We know that neither brutal prisons nor execution act as any form of deterrent. We know that sometimes innocent people will be convicted of horrible crimes. We know that the friends and family of the victims don’t actually end up feeling any better after the (probably) guilty are executed. We know that prisons, as they’re currently run, turn petty criminals into lifelong re-offenders. we know that locking up violent criminals doesn’t prevent them from committing violent crimes; it just limits their victims to other inmates and guards.

    What we don’t know, because we’ve never really bothered to find out, is whether any reasonable proportion of criminals can be rehabilitated and become functional members of society again. I strongly believe that we need to change the way prisons are run so that they’re not simply a method of punishment but serve an actual purpose. The problem is that whenever such studies begin there’s a very vocal constituency that sees it as being “soft on crime”, so politicians shut it down.

    We also need to address the causes of crime; reducing poverty and lack of education would significantly reduce the amount of criminals. Decriminalising the drug trade may also help, but that has other knock-on effects that are hard to predict. Yes, there will always be the occasional psychopath, and crimes of passion, but there’s no reason why we can’t stop the career criminals before they start.

    I can’t see any merit to the death penalty, and I can’t call any society that practices it “civilised”.

  • Black steve

    I imagine killing to be a nightmarish experience for people
    who don’t want to kill, this in turn makes it a personal sacrifice.

  • Black steve

    More innocents are sacrificed by not exerting the full power
    of the law on criminals. More people die from criminals
    walking free then from death penalty on the innocent.
    The expresion better safe then sorry outlines this, maybe
    some innocents may die, but more people will live this way,
    society as a whole has more to gain more out of ridding
    the world of these plauges on society. Charles Manson is
    still alive, this I cannot accept, in addition to that in these
    tough economic times society can’t pay for other people’s
    survival, they had their opportunity and wasted it. Besides,
    from a criminal stand point the threat of death is the only
    thing that deters them from commiting violent crimes, the
    threat in itself is what will help lower crime rates, not so
    much it’s execution

  • Sunny Day

    “Black steve
    I imagine killing to be a nightmarish experience for people
    who don’t want to kill, this in turn makes it a personal sacrifice.”

    No. Just find someone for whom its NOT a nightmarish experience.

  • Pancake guinea pig

    O o