That's the provocative thesis of criminologist Peter Moskos's new book, titled In Defense of Flogging. Over at CNN's In the Arena blog, Moskos explains why he thinks whipping people is better than living with the Drug War status quo:
The Supreme Court has affirmed a federal order telling California to reduce its overflowing prison population, a situation the majority said "falls below the standard of decency." California now has to figure out how to reduce the population by more than 30,000 prisoners. From your point of view, why does the prison system in the U.S. continue to fail?
Prisons fail because they don't do what they were designed to do: cure criminals. And as long as we insist on fighting an idiotic "war on drugs," nothing is going to better. […]
So California now says they're not going to release prisoners who are a danger to society. But if they're not a danger to society, why are they behind bars in the first place? If we just want to punish people for breaking the law, there are better—and cheaper—ways to do so.
In your new book, you are proposing that convicted prisoners should be offered a choice between a standard prison sentence and a set number of lashes? Are you serious? Do you think a criminal would choose being whipped?
I'm deadly serious. Given the choice between five years and ten lashes, wouldn't you choose the lash? What does that say about prison? And if flogging were so bad, where's the harm in offering it as a choice?
Of course some people are too dangerous to release, but these people are kept behind bars simply because we're afraid of them. But for most criminals, those we just want to punish, flogging is a more honest. It's also a lot cheaper. Simply to bring our prison population down to levels we had until the 1970s, we'd have to release 85 percent of our prisoners. How are we going to do that unless we end the war on drugs or have alternative forms of punishment?
Ironically, once people hear my idea, often they say that flogging isn't harsh enough. It's good to move beyond the facile position that flogging is too cruel to consider, but if you think flogging isn't harsh enough—that we need to keep people locked up for years precisely because prison is so unbelievable horrible—then you may be a truly evil person.
Moskos wrote a piece on drug-arrest incentives in our July special issue on the criminal justice system (pictured), which has begun landing in subscribers' mailboxes already. Don't subscribe to the magazine? Here's a link; do it. Though even then it will be too late for this particular issue, so get thee to a newsstand or bookstore, and reward good journalism (and most importantly, yourself).
I'll be speaking about the issue, and Moskos' proposal, beginning at 9 AM eastern time (otherwise known as NOW!) on The Pat Campbell Show, KFAQ 1170 AM Tulsa. Listen live at this link. UPDATE: Here's the podcast!