A western Shariah?
Is whiplash better than prison life?
In Defense of Flogging, Peter Moskos, Basic Books, Pp 192 (PB), $ 20
By Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Spare the rod and spoil the child is the old saying. Peter Moskos now says ‘Spare the whip and spoil the criminal jurisprudence’. Strongly advocating the introduction of flogging as a punishment to most criminal offences in his highly provocative book In Defense of Flogging, Moskos says, “There are 2.3 million Americans in prison. That is too many. I want to reduce cruelty, and flogging may be the answer. My opening gambit is simple: Given the choice between five years in prison and ten brutal lashes, which would you choose?”
Peter Moskos shocks, initially. But as one reads on, we can see the logic and tend to agree with the reasoning. He says taking away a large portion of somebody’s life is cruelty. It is generally believed that the prison sentence reforms the person, while statistics shows that a huge percentage of jail mates are repeat offenders. “America now has more prisoners than any other country in the world. Ever. In numbers and percentage. Our rate of incarceration is roughly seven times that of Canada or any West European country… Think about it: We have more prisoners than China, and they have a billion more people than we do.” Moskos points out that, prisons are maintained on tax payers’ money, which could actually spent better on welfare addressing causes of crime.
On a humorous note he discusses how the crime cycle works. “An arrest in the war on drugs usually creates a job opening. Arrest thousands of drug dealers (and pay millions of dollars for their incarceration) and other needy or greedy people will take their place. Nothing will change.” The white- collar criminals should not be kept in prison, he says, citing the example of Bernard Madoff, who is convicted for running the Ponzi scheme. “He is no threat to society. Nobody would give him a penny to invest. But Madoff did wrong and deserves to be punished. Better cane him and let him go.”
The denial of political rights to prisoners also leads to skewed election results, he says. In Anamosa, Iowa, a person called Danny Young was elected to City Council to represent 1400 people, of whom just 58 were not prisoners! Moskos agrees that there are certain categories of criminals who need to be imprisoned, like pedophiles, psychopathic killers and terrorists. But the huge number of prisoners, he says, speaks of a deeper malaise, which the nation is not confronting. “..if we’re not willing to invest in education, rehabilitation, mental care, infrastructure, job creation, or troubled neighbourhoods, then we have no choice: It’s time to short-circuit the entire criminal justice system by bringing back the lash.”
Moskos is emphatic that flogging is not a slippery step towards amputation, public stoning, or Sharia law. The book he says is aimed at provoking a discussion on the subject, to shatter the status quo. He understands the unease one feels about the ‘brutality’ of the punishment, which he says could be a deterrent in itself. Considering most ancient systems of justice practiced caning, whipping, flogging, the thought of it as an effective disincentive for crimes and repeated offences should not be brushed off. Peter Moskos is assistant professor of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former police officer. Moskos has achieved his goal and has indeed provoked a re-think on flogging.
(Basic Books, 387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016)