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Punishment (a Judicial Issue)


Throughout the ages, individuals have been punished for doing some wrong against someone, society, or the government. For the earliest hunters and gatherers, there were probably only a few types of crimes and only a few types of punishments. The basic crimes might have been murdering someone in their group, stealing food or tools from another member of their group, and not doing their fair share of the work. The corresponding punishments might have been putting the murderer to death, taking food or tools from the thief, and banishing the freeloader from the group.

As society became more complex and groups grew into larger communities where individuals did not personally know everyone, more laws were needed to govern how they interacted. The list of crimes grew to include more types of theft, fraud, larceny, smuggling, destruction of property, and a long list of social crimes like gambling, prostitution, and adultery. With more types of crimes, society added more types of punishments. Criminal acts became punishable by such things as stoning, whipping, being put on the rack, in blocks or in prison, being sold into slavery, and having body parts lopped off.

With advances in government, technology and globalization, the number of laws has ballooned. The number of laws in the United States varies by State and local community and changes all the time. However, it is likely that there are tens or even hundreds of thousands of laws governing the actions of individuals, groups, businesses, and the government in any given location. With the advent of democracy and more humane treatment of criminals, the list of punishments has shifted more towards fines, community service, prison time, probation, and some creative sentencing.


Prisons are often talked about in terms of having criminals repay their debt to society, and either reforming or punishing criminals. In general, none of this is an apt description of what happens. It takes money to keep prisoners locked up, so instead of repaying their debt to society, prisoners increase their debt. Although prison inmates often suffer violence from fellow inmates, they do get three square meals a day, medical care, and a wide range of activities to enjoy. It is also estimated that well over half of the individuals released from prison return to a life of crime, with many of them ending up back in prison. In addition, the United States of America has one of the highest incarceration rates of any country in the world. All of this points to a need for change.

The current prison environment is a breeding ground for violence and crime. To survive, many prison inmates must learn to defend themselves against violence, to lie, to steal, to make shivs, or to smuggle contraband. This usually means joining some prison gang where they may need to prove themselves by committing violent acts against members of rival prison gangs. In addition, fellow inmates are a vast store house of criminal knowledge from which an inmate can learn how to become a better criminal.

What we need to do is to alter the prison environment and inmate dynamics so that inmates will learn to act in more socially acceptable ways and to do more to repay their debts to society. To do this, we must make prison life seem more like a stripped down and restrictive version of an ideal outside world. In this way, inmates will learn how to make it on the outside without returning to crime and not to learn how to survive in a violent gang-controlled world.

A new prisoner would be issued a picture ID card that would serve as a debit card, which starts out with a zero balance. Then he or she would be assigned quarters, would go through orientation, and would be signed up for career and social counseling, and job training. At first, the prisoner would only get the necessities like room, board, clothing, counseling, and emergency medical care. Additional items like recreational activities, TV, exercise time, snacks, cigarettes, health care, and a larger or more private cell would all need to be purchased with money earned at a prison job.

Prisoner security and safety would be a high priority, so that prisoners would learn to exist without violence and be less likely to use violence when they get out. Therefore, prison inmate movement would be tightly controlled to limit interaction with other inmates, which would be strictly limited so that only small numbers of inmates would ever be together at any given time. This would be done by splitting all work, meals, and other activities into shifts and splitting the inmates in each shift into even smaller groups.

All common areas would be under video surveillance, so that any problems could be easily investigated and resolved. Inmates with known or reported problems could be split into different shifts. In addition, any inmate who resorts to violence would be required to attend counseling. A side benefit to limiting inmate interaction would be that inmates would have less time to learn more about being a criminal from fellow inmates.

Career counseling and job training would be used to help prisoners find an appropriate prison job, so that they will be able to learn marketable skills that they can use when they get out of prison. Inmates would be required to work an appropriate number of hours per week doing things that translate into real jobs on the outside. Each job would pay an appropriate amount based on what it would earn on the outside and how well the prisoner performed the job. Performance reviews would be used to give feedback to the inmate and to determine raises and promotions.

The earnings from these prison jobs would go into the inmates’ prison accounts from which amounts would be deducted for room and board, and any victim remuneration. Inmates could save part of their remaining balances for transitioning back into society and the rest they could use to buy discretionary items. In this way, prison inmates would learn job skills, work ethics, and money management.

Halfway Houses

Instead of dumping inmates directly back into society at the end of their sentences or when they are released on probation, they should all go through an interim period at a halfway house. There, they would use money saved from their prison jobs to pay for room, board, clothing, job hunting and other things to get them back into society.

In the halfway houses, they would need to check in at regular times and to get approval to leave for shopping trips, job interviews, work and other permitted activities. To help with the return to work and to society, the halfway houses would help with job placement and apartment searches. Once an ex-inmate has found a job and made it through an initial probation period, he or she would be able to move out of the halfway house and to return fully to society.

In addition to being used for ex-prison inmates returning to society, these halfway houses should be available to other individuals who need help. It would be better to give individuals the opportunity to get their acts together before they resort to crime rather than after.

Death Penalty

Under normal everyday situations we should respect someone’s existence by not murdering them. However, if someone did try to murder us, then it is considered acceptable for us to kill them in self-defense. What we have here is our respecting someone’s opinion that it is acceptable to murder someone. This would not make us murderers, because our actions would be strictly based on our respecting the murderer by responding in an appropriate way. This response works whether the individual was trying to murder us or someone else, since the killer’s actions have opened the door for us to respond accordingly.

The death penalty stirs strong emotions on both sides of the issue. There are individuals who believe that the death penalty is a cruel and unusual punishment, even for a murderer. Other individuals believe that the death penalty is a needed deterrent or that taking the murder’s life gives justice to the victim and to the victim’s friends and family.

Many individuals consider how a society uses the death penalty as a reflection on the character of the society, but it should be a reflection on the character of the murderer. Civilized individuals should abhor the killing of anyone except when truly necessary, like with self-defense, but we must also respect the rights of individuals to live and to die based on their chosen lifestyle. In the case of premeditated murderers, they had decided that it was their right to murder someone. Therefore, if we are really going to respect their lifestyle choice, we have no choice but to impose the death penalty. The same should apply to those murderers whose acts were not premeditated, but who do not renounce and show remorse for what they did.

We also need to look at another aspect of this example, which may not seem like a good thing on the surface, but it does show a very important part of how this philosophy of respect works. Let us take two individuals who have mutually and willingly agreed that they are going to try to kill each other. In this case, they are showing mutual respect. Their actions are not saying that they believe it is acceptable to murder someone (i.e., kill someone against that person’s will), but only that it is acceptable to kill someone who has agreed to be killed. There may be many other factors that must be looked at before we can say that this is acceptable behavior, but it does not show any lack of respect toward us, so we must show our respect by not interfering.

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Supreme Court - How to improve our Supreme Court so that justice will be better served.

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Saturday, February 03, 2024
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