A Reply to A. L. Humanist on Crime and Punishment

On the blog The Modest Blog Of A Liberal Humanist we found this interesting article. In this article the author argues that two teenagers who severely attacked an elderly homeless person, should be locked up for life either in a mental hospital or in prison, depending on the psychological condition of the perpetrators rather than a six or seven-year sentence as was actually the case here.

The author argues that these two persons are an eminent danger for society, and that it’s unlikely that they can be reformed within six or seven years. Hence a life sentence is therefore justified in this case. We agree with the analysis that this two young criminals are dangerous and have to be isolated from society. However, we would prefer an indefinite sentence rather than a life sentence.

Though the difference between a life and an indefinite sentence is subtle, it’s nevertheless of great importance. A life sentence means that a person is put in prison for the remainder of his life, save the possibility of parole or clemency. An indefinite sentence on the other hand, lasts as long as is necessary to protect society from the condemned. As long as a criminal remains a threat to society he will remain behind bars, if he however ceases to be a danger he can be released. Of course we recommend he will be supervised after his release.

The moral relevant difference between these two different sentences, is that a life sentence precludes any possibility of rehabilitation whilst an indefinite sentence still has this opportunity without compromising the protection of society.

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8 thoughts on “A Reply to A. L. Humanist on Crime and Punishment”

  1. You must know by now I agree with an indefinite sentence.
    And I haven’t read the link to get the details of the case to know what it is that drove them to attack the homeless fellow. I don’t think keeping them in prison would be of help, they may come out worse off.

    1. “And I haven’t read the link to get the details of the case to know what it is that drove them to attack the homeless fellow.”

      According to the link it was essentially just for fun.

      “I don’t think keeping them in prison would be of help, they may come out worse off.”

      Basically, I agree with you on this one. A very big issue with locking up people who committed only minor offences, is that they will meet the real gangster during their time in prison. Prisons are often referred to as universities of crimes. And since having served a time in prison is detrimental to one’s further normal career, creates a perverse incentive for people to continue their criminal careers.

      1. Indeed, I think few petty offenders imprisoned for whatever length of time come out better citizens. And when a judge, during sentencing tells the criminal that his sentence should be a lesson to him and others, the person feels, and rightfully so, that he is a pawn in a big game.

  2. I agree, and I’d also forward the idea that all medical testing be conducted on prisoners, until such a time that alternatives to animal testing can be deployed. This, of course, would have to be voluntary, but would serve as “merit” points toward their possible future release.

    1. In the US alone some 3,000 persons are on death row, and many more are serving life sentences. This gives a large pool of test subjects. Provided that the voluntariness is not in question, I think this an interesting idea to consider. It allows the criminals to make up for their crimes in a useful way.

      Only I can imagine that some human rights activists will claim that the cooperation of criminals in this program is actually a kind of coercion since it affects the probability of their release. Personally I don’t think this is a strong argument, since the most important factor in the decision of release is the danger posed by the criminal.

  3. Perhaps Lagrangia should reintroduce the most heinous of punishments – exile. For what worse sentence for a human being than the banishment from society.

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