Bias Against Torture

In many situations it would be better to impose a punishment of torture than imprisonment.  The fact that the U.S. justice system rejects torture as a punishment is the result of an anti-torture bias.

Torture has two benefits over imprisonment.  It’s cheaper for the state to impose and it doesn’t prevent the criminal from engaging in useful labors (such as parenting and working at a job) for long periods of time.   To determine who should be tortured as opposed to imprisoned we need to consider the benefits to society of imprisonment. 

Prison serves three purposes: deterrence, retribution and incapacitation.  Fear of prison deters many would-be criminals from committing crimes.  Fear of torture, however, could do likewise.  Imprisoning criminals can satisfy victims’ desires for vengeance and so make victims feel better.  Torturing criminals could, however, also satisfy victims’ desires for retribution.  Finally, prison prevents imprisoned criminals from attacking people who are not in prison.  The primary disadvantage of torture is that it doesn’t result in the incapacitation of criminals and so leaves them free to strike again.

Many convicted criminals, however, don’t pose a risk to society.  Men convicted of securities fraud, for example, are frequently barred from the stock market and so their freedom won’t endanger society.  Because of its far lower cost, the U.S. should torture rather than imprison criminals who don’t need to be removed from society.

Some would argue that it’s excessively cruel to torture criminals.  But both prison and torture impose costs on criminals.  Why is one type of cost crueler than the other?  If a convicted criminal is indifferent between receiving a certain type of torture or being imprisoned for a given period of time then why would it be excessively cruel to torture but not to imprison?

In the U.S. many prisoners face a significant chance of being raped by a fellow inmate.  This high chance doesn’t seem to bother many people, and is often the subject of jokes.  Yet our society considers it barbaric for a criminal justice system to deliberately torture criminals in ways that may well impose less physical and emotional costs than rape does.  I find these conflicting moral views about torture and imprisonment to be irrational.

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  • Don

    What about rehabilitation? Admittedly, our prison system doesn’t do a very good job of rehabilitating criminals – but that is one of the theoretical goals. Maybe it takes time to reflect on your misdeeds in order to change your ways. A long period of incarceration might do this. A short period of torture might not.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Don, rehabilitation has been completely abandoned as a goal of prison. California used to have a prison system that did a decent job at rehabilitation. But the prison guards union got politicians elected who mandated longer sentences and the money that used to go to rehabilitating prisoners went to simply housing them. With no rehabilitation and rampant violence in prison, non-violent offenders (like minor drug users) become more violent offenders the next time, which increases the demand for prison guards.

    • steven

      Serving time in a prison is not supposed to offer and pay for the inmates to get a 4 year free online degree. Prison is to punish criminals for breaking the law period. I am so sick of the left wingers talking about how we need to spend millions of dollars turning all the criminals into priest.

      In fact by doing this the priest or ministers in todays times will use this to promise you if they send money to there ministry God will reward them back 1,000 fold and they use scriptures taken so far out of context it makes you want to throw up. Mike Murdock one of the bigges false ministers who sells the buy a prayer from God lives in a 5 million dollar home. Also look up the rest of these charletons homes that preach the prosperity gospel and they all own over 2 million to ten million dollar homes.

      Unfortunatly it is the poor who are desperate and believe them. PT Barnum said there is a sucker born ever day and these men and women will burn in the deepest and hottest parst of hell. I got off of the subject sorry but as I said prisons are for punishment and not rehability plain and simple.

  • Andy Burnett

    I agree with Don, James has completely missed the 4th main role of prison – rehabilitation. Torture would offer nothing in this regard. In addition society striven to be less violent. A move towards torture would go against the basic desire, therefore embracing torture as an alternative to prison would be illogical.

  • RobbL

    Robin,

    no offense, but where is this coming from?

    We have an ongoing society-wide debate raging about the morality of torturing people to get information to stop terrorism and you put up a post about torture as an alternative to prison. Do you have a bias against discussing the issues?

  • http://toblogornottoblog.skynetblogs.be sodade

    Have you ever encountered a person who was tortured? Sat with him after his release from prison in an african country? Seen the fysical and psychological damage?
    I have!
    Torture can never be an option.

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog Scott Young

    Is this a serious article? Normally I’m used to blogs with reasonably intelligent insight.

    This argument rests on the assumptions:

    1) Being incarcerated is an equivalent punishment to torture.
    2) Being raped in prison is likely.

    For the former I think you would have a hard time arguing that with anyone who has ever faced physical torture. For the latter I believe you would need statistics, not episodes of Oz.

  • Carl Shulman

    “In many situations it would be better to impose a punishment of torture than imprisonment. The fact that the U.S. justice system rejects torture as a punishment is the result of an anti-torture bias.”
    This seems to be somewhat conclusory as an opening to the discussion.

    One point to consider is that torture is irreversible: someone who has been imprisoned for political reasons or otherwise wrongfully can hope to be subsequently pardoned or to have the conviction overturned. This feature of the death penalty has led to an incredibly long and expensive process in the United States, which ultimately results in execution (combined with Death Row) exceeding life imprisonment in cost.

    Differences in attitudes toward prison rape and torture as a judicial punishment seem to reflect the general doing/permitting harm distinction.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

    I would also note that the deterrent effect of caning varies enormously across individuals: for some resilient individuals or practitioners of machismo this may make a very weak deterrent, while others are terrified at the thought. In Singapore, which has not signed anti-torture conventions and uses torture to punish crimes such as vandalism and violations of immigration law, torture is never administered alone, only in combination with prison.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caning_in_Singapore

  • http://jamesdmiller.blogspot.com/ James D. Miller

    Don and Andy,

    Since the U.S. prison system does a horrible job of rehabilitating I didn’t mention the rehabilitation justification for punishment in the post.

    RobbL,

    The discussion concerns using torture to get information from foreign terrorists not using torture as a form of punishment against Americans. Perhaps my blog post should have stated that there is a bias against using torture against ordinary criminals.

    sodade,

    My guess is that the physical and psychological damage of being imprisoned for a long period of time is greater than the damage of being caned, say, 20 times.

    Scott Young,

    Let X = the number of times someone is caned. Let Y = the number of years someone spends in jail. Nearly everyone would prefer having a punishment of X=1 to Y=50. Similarly, nearly everyone would prefer a punishment of Y=.00001 to X=200. Given some probably satisfied continuality assumptions this means that there are many levels of X and Y for which “Being incarcerated is an equivalent punishment to torture.”

    The Wikipedia article on prison rape cites Stop Prisoner Rape, Inc as saying there are an estimated 25,000 prisoners raped each year in the U.S.

    Carl,

    Once a prisoner has spent time in jail he can never get that time back. You are right that the deterrent effect of caning would vary widely across individuals. But isn’t this also true with imprisonment?

    James Miller

  • Stuart Armstrong

    I’m skeptical of the equating of caning with torture. Your dismissal of psychological damage implies that you are thinking of corporal punishment, not torture. This is a far less contentious position.

    So are you talking of corporal punishment, or of torture in the rack, thumbscrews, rolling the victim in a barrel filled with spikes, etc… sense? If you aren’t, then avoid using emotive words language like “torture”.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Since the U.S. prison system does a horrible job of rehabilitating I didn’t mention the rehabilitation justification for punishment in the post.

    If one has an ideal of a rehabilitative prison system, then as much as the current system sucks, replacing it with corporal punishment is a big step in the wrong direction.

  • Carl Shulman

    “Once a prisoner has spent time in jail he can never get that time back.”
    Yes, and for short sentences this consideration doesn’t apply, but for long sentences, which impose much larger penal costs, one can recover the large remaining time.

    “You are right that the deterrent effect of caning would vary widely across individuals. But isn’t this also true with imprisonment?”
    It’s a reason to be wary of overly complete substitution. Given a heterogenous population of criminals, one might improve deterrence by adjusting the mix of torture and imprisonment according to the distribution of preferences among those who commit different crimes. Or one might bundle together different punishments (like Singapore) to reduce the variance in total deterrence across individuals, perhaps also including public ‘shaming’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_humiliation) as well.

  • TGGP

    Imprisonment does not do a good job of deterrence. It’s primary value is incapacitation. Like James, I also dismiss rehabilitation. You are correct that torture that does prevent future activities and that is precisely why it will not be effective in lowering crime.

    Since I never get tired of plugging it, here’s Greene & Cohen’s For the law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog Scott Young

    James,

    I disagree with your logic. Your assumption is that at a certain X/Y ratio the preference between them is equal, therefore, they are equivalent acts. I’d argue that perpetuating certain forms of punishment on an individual are inherently less ethical than others, regardless of the convicts preference.

    What if instead of changing X from caning, we change it to cutting off a persons hand or burning off a persons flesh. Sure a few people would accept a very low X compared to a high Y in this case.

    But what about the people who don’t? Assume that the Supreme Court rules that a severe form of torture is equivalent to fifty years in prison. If I were arrested (for albeit, a heinous crime) I would have no say on whether I could endure the fifty years or the extreme form of torture. Therefore, in my individual case the state is perpetuating a highly unethical act against me, even if a few pain-resistant convicts might disagree.

    So the state wouldn’t use extreme forms of torture? That’s a slippery slope, and it isn’t one I’d want a civilized country to get on. Where do you draw the line at what is acceptable to do to another human being.

    If you’re going to argue that the death penalty is similar, don’t bother. First, executions are done in as pain-free manner as possible. Second they aren’t ethical to begin with, and I’m proud to live in a country that doesn’t have them anymore (Canada).

    Although I think that Wikipedia statistic is somewhat dubious, even if there were a high amount of rapes in prison, this in no way justifies allowing torture. The fact that we don’t always live by our ethical principles doesn’t mean we should abandon them.

    Call it a “bias against torture” if you will, but I certainly don’t want to be living in a country where you are in charge.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    James,
    Your post isn’t transparently rooted in empiricism. Also, it seems like a weird starting point for a more generally worthy topic: bring rationality and empirical grounding to judicial interference with life, liberty, and property (perhaps all reducible to property) of individuals.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    This isn’t a cognitive bias, it’s a judgment on a particular issue.

    I think many people would rather be tortured for a week than imprisoned for a year. I would certainly be obligated to choose the former option, if I were convicted of a crime, unless I thought the torture was going to permanently shatter my sanity. And yet I still don’t think the justice system should torture. I wonder why I think that.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      One of the problems with torture is the effect it has on the torturers. This is one of the most serious effects and is analogous to what basic training does to soldiers.

      Virtually every “normal” person has an aversion to hurting and killing other human beings. This aversion is what produces the normal civil society that we have. We don’t have to worry so much about random people hurting and killing us, not because there are laws against it, but because most people don’t want to do such things because it makes them feel terrible. Giving people who enjoy hurting people a justification for doing so under the cover of law is a terrible idea because they will come to enjoy it more and won’t limit their torture to only legally sanctioned torture.

      The purpose of basic training is to “break” the normal aversion to killing other human beings and then program them so that soldiers are able to kill “the enemy” easily and efficiently. The problem for soldiers is that after their tour of duty they are not “deprogrammed”, and the aversion to violence against other humans is not restored. That is part of what PTSD is. The long term changes in neuroanatomy that result from living in a war zone and killing people.

      Some of the people who ran the death camps in Germany in WWII couldn’t take it and then volunteered for the Russian front which was essentially certain death. They effectively committed suicide. Suicide is a leading cause of death for veterans.

      http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/13/cbsnews_investigates/main3496471.shtml

      The purpose of “punishment” in the criminal justice system isn’t to deter crime. The purpose is to dehumanize criminals, to push them to the bottom of the social hierarchy so that people above them can think to themselves “I am not like them, this will never happen to me” and also to elevate those who do the punishing to the top of the social hierarchy.

      In the limit, individuals are dehumanized so much that they are no longer human and so can be killed. That is the goal of every instance of dehumanizing and of bullying. Dehumanize the individual enough so they are at the bottom of the hierarchy and can be maltreated and even tortured and killed. Blacks were once at the bottom, and at the bottom they were enslaved. Women were at the bottom too. In some places women still are.

      There are ways to rehabilitate criminals, but it entails doing the opposite of punishment and torture. Rehabilitation doesn’t move anyone down the social hierarchy and it doesn’t move anyone up. That is why rehabilitation has such a low priority in the criminal justice system. The goal isn’t the absence of crime, the goal is to use the “system” to move up the social hierarchy.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Eliezer,
    If our best evidence is that justice system torturing in certain instances would reducing torturing overall, wouldn’t it be irrational for you to oppose those instances of torturing by the justice system? The same applies to imprisonment and executions.

    Alternatively, torturing, imprisonment, and execution in certain instances may reduce your and my likelihood of personally being tortured, imprisoned, and/or executed. It’s an empirical question though -I don’t know what the data says on this stuff.

  • Pseudonymous

    Elizer, I think that part of the reason is that objecting to things like flogging criminals makes it easier for us to think of ourselves as compassionate, enlightened etc.

    We must be enlightened, something inside us reasons, because we have to hide the violence of our acts from ourselves.

  • Jon Newman

    Hello James,

    I’m trying to understand the crux of the issue here. Is the contention that those who advocate torture of foreign terrorists should also advocate torture of domestic criminals in order to be logically consistent? That’s what I’m currently understanding as the main point. However, there has been enough discussion to make me wonder if the point is to explore whether torture is something to advocate in the first place.

  • http://asecondhandconjecture.com/?p=1404 A Second Hand Conjecture

    Torture in criminal justice

    Are we irrationally biased against torture?
    In many situations it would be better to impose a punishment of torture than imprisonment. The fact that the U.S. justice system rejects torture as a punishment is the result of an anti-torture bias.
    Torture…

  • Constant

    Eliezer, I think you have defined cognitive bias well and I agree it is a stretch to call the rejection of torture a “bias” but I think that the word “bias” (stripped bare of “cognitive”) is used for more things than aspects of universal human cognitive machinery. There are different ways to demonstrate this, for example by looking up synonyms for the words “biased” and “unbiased”, or surveying the uses. A bias is an imbalance that (if uncorrected) precludes a neutral or impartial judgment, and this imbalance can be something that arises universally in the judgment of all humans or it can arise out of an individual’s history and be specific to that individual.

    The words “inclination” and “slant” are synonyms of “bias”, and they also are used to describe slanted or inclined surfaces. The word “bias” itself etymologically derives from a word meaning “slant”. The word “bias” is sometimes used to describe a badly calibrated measurement apparatus, so for example a biased level will lead us to mistakenly construct objects with surfaces which are slanted rather than level.

    This suggests a close conceptual relationship between the idea of bias in judgment, and the idea of an inclined surface. Place a marble on an inclined surface, and it will roll in the direction of the incline. Present someone with a situation that calls for a judgment, and if he is biased he will display a tendency to erroneously judge in a particular direction. A tendency to err is not by itself a bias – in order to be a bias the tendency must have a direction. Having a direction, it must be predictable (to an extent). And, since it is predictable, the possibility of correcting for bias, of overcoming bias, arises.

    If you are learning to throw darts, and your darts land all over the board, then that’s one kind of failure. But if your darts all cluster close together in one part (say) at the bottom right of the board, then that’s another kind of failure and there’s a good chance you can correct for it (by, for example, aiming for the top left of the board). I think we can usefully call this kind of failure a “bias”.

  • michael vassar

    I think that two important issues are
    a) we consider it undesirable to cultivate bloodlust among the lawful populace, as is frequently done with torture, and
    b) imprisonment imposes costs upon the government which reduce the government’s readiness to use it, while torture does not have such an effect.
    Also, as noted earlier, torture doesn’t prevent further crimes and thus doesn’t protect the public. (less of an issue for white collar crimes etc).

  • David J. Balan

    I think Michael Vassar has it exactly right: the biggest problem with giving someone the power to punish someone else is that there are a fair number of people who think harming disfavored others is *fun.* Physical torture is more fun for such people than is imprisonment, and the cost of prison gives the system an incentive to keep a leash on the over-enthusiastic punishers (of whom there would be many more if the system provided more opportunities for such people to get their jollies).

  • http://toblogornottoblog.skynetblogs.be sodade

    You write:
    My guess is that the physical and psychological damage of being imprisoned for a long period of time is greater than the damage of being caned, say, 20 times.

    Stuart Armstrong writes:
    I’m skeptical of the equating of caning with torture. Your dismissal of psychological damage implies that you are thinking of corporal punishment, not torture. This is a far less contentious position.

    What is your idea of torture?
    I ask again: have you ever met with a victim?
    Since your write : my guess etc… I don’t think so.

    Believe me, the damage of torture (physical and psychological) lasts for ever.
    Even witnessing this in being with victims, helping them, is very traumatic. For years now I’m suffering from it.
    And it was about: hitting with a stick, electrocution (let somebody hold the wire in his hands, poor water over him, switch on electricity), hitting the foot soles with a piece of wood with nails in it, nails into the foot sole, making witness torture and execution, no food, being put in prison in the smallest dirtiest place you can imagine, no facility to go to the toilet – just go ahead were you sit, smell of blood, faeces, sweat …. all around.
    And so on, and so on…

    I think… your ‘my guess’ isn’t worth a lot!

  • http://nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    Why did you choose the strongest term, rather than corporal punishment or somesuch?

    One other argument in favor of corporal punishment/torture is that it means people aren’t getting acclimated to prison culture.

    An argument against is that many government which used cp/t abolished it. We should at least look at their reasons–they have more experience with its effects than we do.

    More generally, people underestimate how much they’re hurting others, perhaps especially when the pain is framed as punishment. Admittedly, this applies to prison as well as physical punishment.

    Why do you dismiss rehabilitation?

  • http://jamesdmiller.blogspot.com/ James D. Miller

    Stuart

    I consider torture to be the deliberate infliction of pain for the purpose of causing pain. I don’t dismiss the psychological damage of torture and believe it could be part of the reason that the threat of torture would deter.

    Nick

    Crime is often a rational choice so I suspect that many criminals can’t be rehabilitated.

    Carl

    You are right that there is a greater opportunity to correct state error when the state imposes a long prison term than when it tortures someone.

    TGGP

    You write “imprisonment does not do a good job of deterrence.” I don’t agree. I suspect, for example, that fear of imprisonment prevents many people from stealing from their employers

    Scott

    You wrote “I’d argue that perpetuating certain forms of punishment on an individual are inherently less ethical than others, regardless of the convicts preference.” Perhaps I’m too much of an economist but I strongly disagree with this. If a criminal prefers to be tortured than imprisoned and the rest of society is better off if the criminal is tortured than imprisoned than I would consider it extremely unethical to imprison rather than torture the criminal.

    Hopefully Anonymous,

    My post wasn’t meant to be rooted in empiricism.

    Eliezer

    If you can’t find a reason to oppose torture and you accept that there are good reasons to torture prisoners than if you are rational (and don’t worry about what other people think of you) you will change your views to supporting torture.

    John Newman

    I am deliberately not considering the treatment of foreign terrorists. The crux of my argument is that if you support imprisoning criminals then in some situations you should also support torturing criminals. But most Americans support only the first of these punishments.

    Michael Vassar and David Balan

    Michael wrote “imprisonment imposes costs upon the government which reduce the government’s readiness to use it, while torture does not have such an effect.” This is a valid argument against torture but it is even a stronger argument against the use of fines as a form of punishment.

    sodade

    You wrote “Believe me, the damage of torture (physical and psychological) lasts for ever.” I’m sure you’re correct, but the harm of being put in prison for 20 years also lasts a lifetime. Do you really think being tortured for a week in a way that does no significant permanent physical harm is worse than being locked up in a small cage for 20 years? I am not trying to downplay the harm of being tortured; rather I am arguing that the harm of being imprisoned for a long period of time is also very high, so high that a person who supports long imprisonment terms shouldn’t say he opposes torture because torture imposes too high a cost on its victims. It would be consistent, however, for someone to oppose both torture and long prison terms.

    Nancy,

    My guess is that going to prison increases the chance of a person committing future crimes so prison is worse than useless at rehabilitation. Prisoners make contact with and learn from other criminals and so become better at crime while in jail. In contrast going to jail makes it harder to get a legal job and long jail sentences cause a prisoners’ human capital to erode. Thus, it’s rational for ex-cons to be more willing to engage in crime as a career after they go to jail than before they are incarcerated. Considering rehabilitation strengthens the case for torture.

    James Miller

  • RobbL

    Sorry James, I didn’t read the name at the bottom.

    My point is that is that there is a heated debate about torturing terrorists. If you want to discuss torture, why not discuss where it is being used instead of raising the issue of torturing criminals? This is not a live issue in the real world. This is like the grownups are discussing what movie we are going to and you pipe up and say “I like going to Disneyworld”.

    If you want to discuss torture why ignore the political discussion that is underway. If you want to talk about prison reform, lets talk about that. I certainly agree that it is disgusting when people joke about prison rape. Using the word torture as a an alternative is not serious…unless you have a bias against people taking you seriously.

  • Jon Newman

    Hi James,

    Your definition of torture may be an impasse for further discussion. “…the deliberate infliction of pain for the purpose of causing pain” is a significant understatement of my understanding of torture. Upon your definition, a daily pin prick similar to glucose monitoring or participation in a Pilates class could suffice for torture. In fact, all someone would have to do is say, “yeah that hurts” and the day’s torture is done.

    • http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/ daedalus2u

      Jon, no. Blood samples are not taken for the purpose of inflicting pain. If a person with a needle came up to someone and said they were going to hurt them by sticking a needle in them, and then did so, that would be torture.

  • TGGP

    James, what did you think of my link.

    I think most people that don’t steal from their employers are more deterred by the reputation costs than the fear of prison.

  • http://toblogornottoblog.skynetblogs.be sodade

    But I don’t believe in long term emprisonment. There have been studies (regret I can’t point out which – I only recall having a discussion with friends amongst whom one is a lawyer in court (and who also engages in human rights etc.) that imprisonment after (I believe it were) seven years, is less becoming less effective. I don’t talk about costs. It is said that many people find ‘redemption’ (? I don’t know whether this is the right word – hope so)in punishment for a crime they committed through a period of imprisonment. They need this (as do victims – to ‘pay back’ for what they did. After this period of 7 years the person who’s held in custody will not ‘learn’ anymore from his punishment. That will only happen in the first 7 years. Beyond this period of time (s)he will start building up anger and resentment.
    But no matter what you write, you will never find me in any way agreeing with the smallest kind of torture – any torture. IT IS WRONG,IT IS IMMORAL. And if you argue this only from point of cost effectiveness… well, well, well… Don’t you think there are other ways to cut in a state’s cost?

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com/blog Scott Young

    Maybe you do think too much like an economist. In any case, you made me think enough to write two comments. More than most people do, so keep it up. I like a good cognitive challenge to my viewpoints!

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    James Miller writes “My post wasn’t meant to be rooted in empiricism.” Neither are a lot of the responses. So what are all these writings, not meant to be rooted in empiricism, other than bloviating?

  • David J. Balan

    Giving the government the power to levy fines is only a problem if the government official doing the fining actually gets to keep the money. This is generally not the case, whereas the government official doing the torturing actually gets to do the torturing, or at least gets to order it.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    This sort of bloodless rationality is quite sickening.

    We don’t torture people because we don’t want to be the sort of people who deliberately inflict pain on others, who violate a person’s bodily integrity, who invent and adopt technologies of pain. We don’t want to have a government that has the right to torture its citizens. We don’t want to establish a class of people whose job is to inflict agony.

    At least, that’s the theory. In fact, torture by violence and rape is extremely common as an informal practice in the penal system, and in the intelligence and military worlds torture has been an institutionalized practice for decades. We are already living in a torture state, so you have ample opportunity to bolster your theory with some facts. Go study some torture victims and see if their

    Here’s a tip: if your rationality leads you to conclusions that any decent person would find sickening, that’s a sign that there might be something wrong with your reasoning, your premises, or your general methodology. Certainly if this is rationality, give me irrationality any day. It’s the same sort of rationality displayed by Eichmann.

  • http://www.siggibecker.de/blog/ siggi

    Bingo. Following this especially from Germany since yesterday I have hold to my self. If this is “reason”, humanity has lost. Future of Humanity?

  • Pseudonymous

    There was a time when “any decent person” in the South would have found sickening the idea of desegragated drinking fountains. Or abortion. Or democracy. And so on. Popular repugnance is an imperfect guide.

    We don’t torture people because we don’t want to be the sort of people who deliberately inflict pain on others

    All forms of punishment exist to inflict suffering on others. Every single one. All that changes is how that suffering is inflicted. The point of objecting to punishment-by-inflicting-pain is that inflicting pain makes it impossible to hide the fact that you are exerting power over someone to make him suffer.

  • Nick Tarleton

    Crime is often a rational choice so I suspect that many criminals can’t be rehabilitated.

    Well, it’s far from clear that rehabilitation is universally or even usually impossible. (And I’m glad you’re not in charge with that attitude.) You could see rehabilitation as changing people’s utility function to be less antisocial/more empathetic, as opposed to changing their rationality level. And as I said, rehabilitation is at least conceivable given imprisonment, but not given corporal punishment (or “torture”).

  • Nick Tarleton

    Also, what Michael Vassar said.

  • Paul Gowder

    James, do you seriously think that every judgment with which you disagree is a bias?

    More to the point however, there are so many other considerations against torture that this post doesn’t even begin to consider. For example, what does torture do to the torturers? I think it’s reasonable to believe that *being* a torturer is either going to be highly traumatic or totally cauterize one’s sense of empathy, and that’s a huge cost both to the torturer and to society.

  • TGGP

    Giving the government the power to levy fines is only a problem if the government official doing the fining actually gets to keep the money. This is generally not the case, whereas the government official doing the torturing actually gets to do the torturing, or at least gets to order it.
    What? The torturer doesn’t actually grab utility stolen from the torturee. He only gets the satisfaction of having tortured someone. Could it not be the case that a government official gets satisfaction from fining people, even if he doesn’t receive the funds? I don’t know, but you need to present an argument for why it should be so different from torture.

  • http://toblogornottoblog.skynetblogs.be sodade

    I find it very hurtful that it needs so many words to discuss this theme – to even consider torture.
    There should be only one word: NO!

    Over and over again: NO!
    NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    Popular repugnance is an imperfect guide.

    True enough, but it’s a pretty good heuristic. And at some point, your value system has to ground out in something.

    All forms of punishment exist to inflict suffering on others.

    There is suffering in the form of a parking fine, and suffering in the form of having your testicles electrocuted. I hope your analytical scheme is capable of drawing a distinction between them.

    I have a question for the torture advocates — when you imagine the scene of a prisoner being tortured, by whatever methods you prefer, do you see yourself as the torturer or as the torture victim? Or are you incapable of projecting yourself into either role? Is torture, like war, something that happens only far away to people that aren’t much like you?

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    He only gets the satisfaction of having tortured someone.

    Torture regimes require a professional class of torturers. Such a job description attracts natural sadists, and encourages them to develop their proclivities, and empowers them politically. The prison guard lobby already has an unholy amount of power in California, and in part is responsible for the extraordinarily high incarceration rate we have. Do we really want the torturer’s union setting up a lobbying office in Sacramento, pushing for more torture, for more crimes? And just think, it’s saving money at the same time!

    I’m sure some government bureaucrats get off on being able to deny someone a building permit, but I hope you can see the difference in the situations.

  • http://profile.typekey.com/sentience/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Sodade, I’m sympathetic to that argument – I sometimes give similar advice to people who are trying to be clever about when to believe falsehoods. “Just Say No To Self-Deception” is a far more reliable rule.

    But you still have to be able to talk about why the “Just Say No!” rule is justified, even while following it. Otherwise, one day, one of the things you didn’t let yourself think about will jump out and bite you. You have to be allowed to talk about it, even if you don’t do it.

  • http://jamesdmiller.blogspot.com/ James D. Miller

    RobbL,

    You wrote “Using the word torture as an alternative [to discussing prison reform] is not serious.” I would like to change this. What better place to start than on a blog in which people are supposed to put reason above emotional biases.

    Jon Newman,

    My definition of torture is “The deliberate infliction of pain for the purpose of causing pain”. By this definition painful medical procedures don’t count as torture because the infliction of pain is an unfortunate side effect of the procedure not the purpose of the procedure.

    TGGP

    I skimmed the paper at your link and it seems interesting. Reputation costs are certainly an important reason why people don’t steal but fear of jail is another reason.

    sodade

    If a criminal would prefer to be tortured for a week than to be imprisoned for 10 years why would it be more immoral to torture rather than imprison the criminal?

    Scott Young,

    Thanks.

    Hopefully Anonymous

    These writings are meant to be logical arguments.

    David Balan

    You wrote “Giving the government the power to levy fines is only a problem if the government official doing the fining actually gets to keep the money.” I disagree. The politicians who set the fines are the ones who get to spend the money generated by the fines.

    mtraven

    You wrote “if your rationality leads you to conclusions that any decent person would find sickening, that’s a sign that there might be something wrong with your reasoning, your premises, or your general methodology.” Perhaps, but it could also be a sign that there is something wrong with your sense of sickening. For example, many people find the buying and selling of human kidneys to be sickening. Consequently, most governments ban trade in kidneys. As a result of such a ban, however, thousands of people needlessly die. It should be part of the job of economists such as myself to convince people to get over their irrational distaste of practices when such practices can improve the human condition.

    Pseudonymous

    You wrote “We don’t torture people because we don’t want to be the sort of people who deliberately inflict pain on others All forms of punishment exist to inflict suffering on others. Every single one. All that changes is how that suffering is inflicted. The point of objecting to punishment-by-inflicting-pain is that inflicting pain makes it impossible to hide the fact that you are exerting power over someone to make him suffer.”

    This is a very smart observation. If I ever publish my thoughts on torture in another forum I will use this argument.

    Nick Tarleton,

    If prisons rehabilitated then it would indeed reduce the desirability of torturing criminals.

    Paul Gowder,

    You write “being a torturer is either going to be highly traumatic or totally cauterize one’s sense of empathy, and that’s a huge cost both to the torturer and to society.” But won’t forcing a man to spend 30 years in a small cage where he is at frequent risk for being gang raped also cauterize peoples’ sense of empathy.

    TGGP

    I agree.

    sodade,

    Again I ask you to answer the following question “If a criminal would prefer to be tortured for a week than to be imprisoned for 10 years why would it be more immoral to torture rather than imprison the criminal?”

    mtraven,

    You write “The prison guard lobby already has an unholy amount of power in California, and in part is responsible for the extraordinarily high incarceration rate we have.” So if we substituted torture for some incarceration we would have fewer prison guards and fewer people pushing for long prison terms. It requires far fewer government employees to torture a man for a week than to the keep him locked up for a year, so substituting to torture as a form of punishment would reduce the number of government workers who have an incentive to advocate for harsh punishments.

    James Miller

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    James Miller,
    Since you have specific evaluations of the world we live in, and specific prescriptions, how are they logical arguments if they are not rooted in empiricism? Is any other reader baffled by this claim, or just me?

  • http://toblogornottoblog.skynetblogs.be sodade

    When I go back to Zimbabwe, I will ask the guy who was tortured for 3 weeks ( or is that too long – you say 10 days – regret, I don’t know anybody who was tortured only for 10 days) what he would prefer ‘next time’.

    @ Eliezer Yudkowsky : you’re very right. It has to be possible to talk about this, about everything.
    I’m afraid I’m a bit too close to the subject and I know my reactions are more emotional instead of very logical.

  • Jon Newman

    “My definition of torture is “The deliberate infliction of pain for the purpose of causing pain”. By this definition painful medical procedures don’t count as torture because the infliction of pain is an unfortunate side effect of the procedure not the purpose of the procedure.–James Miller”

    So if someone came into a cell and pricked a finger SIMILAR TO doing a blood glucose test but only did it to cause pain is that sufficient by your definition to be torture? If so it seems to me that your definition of torture is lacking. I agree that pain is most typically the modality of torture but it is not by itself torture. At least not on my understanding.

  • Nick Tarleton

    If a criminal would prefer to be tortured for a week than to be imprisoned for 10 years why would it be more immoral to torture rather than imprison the criminal?

    Externalities, like creating public toleration of torture and a torturers’ union.

    If prisons rehabilitated then it would indeed reduce the desirability of torturing criminals.

    You miss the other half of my point, which is that even if prisons don’t rehabilitate now, if we give up and start torturing criminals instead, rehabilitation will have no chance, even if it would have been possible. You generally speak as if prison universally is, and always will be, defined by brutality and rape; I doubt this.

    HA, this is speculation. Speculation without data can be meaningful, to an extent.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Nick, first, a lot of James Miller’s language is not speculative, from the opening line “In many situations it would be better to impose a punishment of torture than imprisonment.” Second, it seems rational to attempt to inform speculation with the best available data when possible. I see no indication that James Miller is doing that, or has an interest in doing that, from the OP or from his follow-up comments.

  • TGGP

    There is suffering in the form of a parking fine, and suffering in the form of having your testicles electrocuted. I hope your analytical scheme is capable of drawing a distinction between them.
    I think we all recognize that most would prefer the former to the latter. If there were any people who preferred the latter to the former, that might actually count against torture in that specific case since it is less of a disincentive, but on the other hand it would likely be less costly.

    I have a question for the torture advocates — when you imagine the scene of a prisoner being tortured, by whatever methods you prefer, do you see yourself as the torturer or as the torture victim? Or are you incapable of projecting yourself into either role? Is torture, like war, something that happens only far away to people that aren’t much like you?
    I’m not a torture advocate, but honestly I envision myself as neither the torturer nor the torturee because that is most likely what I will be. I think no one is really capable of projecting themselves but only imagines they can. That is why so many people they don’t understand how people could behave in a certain way because they cannot see themselves behaving in that way.

    Torture regimes require a professional class of torturers. Such a job description attracts natural sadists, and encourages them to develop their proclivities, and empowers them politically. The prison guard lobby already has an unholy amount of power in California, and in part is responsible for the extraordinarily high incarceration rate we have. Do we really want the torturer’s union setting up a lobbying office in Sacramento, pushing for more torture, for more crimes? And just think, it’s saving money at the same time!
    Every governmental instrument requires a professional class to administer it and will disproportionately attract those without a greater disincentive for taking part in it. Fines/confiscations are unique in that they have the added incentive to transfer from the victim to the official. My point is that if the finer does not receive the fine it does not become unlike other instruments but rather the same. You use the current bad situation with imprisonment as a reason not to use torture, but the point in the original post is that prison is bad enough that torture should be considered as an alternative.

    I’m sure some government bureaucrats get off on being able to deny someone a building permit, but I hope you can see the difference in the situations.
    I think most people would rather be denied a building permit than tortured.

    James, that was a great point with the kidneys. I don’t think there is an objectively correct position on any normative issue, but I would personally prefer if people thought more like economists and I suspect many people that do not do so would still be happier in a world where policy was set by those that do.

    You miss the other half of my point, which is that even if prisons don’t rehabilitate now, if we give up and start torturing criminals instead, rehabilitation will have no chance, even if it would have been possible. You generally speak as if prison universally is, and always will be, defined by brutality and rape; I doubt this.
    I don’t understand why we won’t be able to try rehabilitation after we’ve tried torture. Also, what do you think is the probability that within the foreseeable future prisons will successfully rehabilitate to a significant degree rather than being defined by brutality and rape?

    • Andrei Bilderburger

      I see the victims or their survivors being the torturers.

      This avoids the creation of a professional class of torturers, though probably state employed professionals would ‘set the scene,’ e. g. with prisoner tied to post for flogging. Some victims might need help due to incapacity. But these more ancillary functions could be spread around, preferably to private related parties, and not create a ‘torturer’ class.

      Some victims would punish the miscreant, some would do it with relish. Others would puke halfway through. Still others would refuse to do any such thing.

      But if anyone knows what justice is in that situation, it is the victim.

      • Peter David Jones

        If you want a form of judicial torture whic, unlioke prison violence, is just and measured, you will have to have someone to oeversee the torture, and assure that it is not excessive, and that is a professional class of torturers, the second removes

  • http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2007/08/overcoming_sque.html EconLog

    Overcoming Squemishness

    James Miller calmly defends torture at Overcoming Bias, and without even mentioning terrorism:Some would argue that it’s excessively cruel to…

  • MJV (Finland)

    There’s nothing new under the Sun, or somefink. Michel Foucault wrote “Discipline and Punish” in 1977 (see Wikipedia for original work), and the book touches this very theme on a very moralistic way. (however, it doesn’t have that much calculus of probabilities, though)

    I see that there isn’t much lawyers around, otherwise somebody would have had brought up his name earlier. Personally I detest the book (and the man), as it can be seen to advocate for all-out abolitionism, á la “ivory tower”-way. (or then it was “propagandist” work, based on Foucault’s beliefs on what the communist system ought to be, instead of what it really was)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/nickbostrom Nick Bostrom

    A disgusting thread to my mind, but I guess it’s in the nature of the forum that cold-hearted deliberation must be enabled even on such topics.

    I think of moral advancement as proceeding by a strategy of divide and conquer. Slowly and with much effort, moral decency sometimes manages to erect a barrier against some particular kind of cruelty or barbarism. But this progress is always at risk, and short-sighted expediency will easily cause people to give up the moral standards that were achieved after so much sacrifice. This is one reason why it can be important to stand up for particular principles, even if they seem inconsistent with our conduct in other areas. I can easily imagine that a future more enlightened age will regard life-time imprisonment, in prisons with high rates of violence, without any chance of parole and without any attempt at rehabilitation, as a barbaric violation of human rights, and that these ages will develop more humane ways of reducing crime.

    I recommend Jonathan Glover’s “Humanity: A moral history of the twentieth century” (Routledge) for a fine discussion of the moral resources that we possess, and which we need to cultivate in order to avoid repeating the atrocities of the distant and recent past.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    Every governmental instrument requires a professional class to administer it …
    This is true, and a dangerous fact. Government has a monopoly on violence and employs people whose job is to administer violence, such as police officers, soldiers, and prison guards. These professions are vital, but dangerous if they get too much power (resulting in police states or military coups). That’s why we have strict laws and professional cultures that restrict what they can do. But there’s always the danger that they will break out of the boundaries society places around them.

    So, should we create a profession of torturers, and hope that they stay within their bounds, that they develop a culture which takes pride in their professionalism and their tradition of honor and service? It strikes me as a dubious proposition. Torture destroys the humanity of the torturer just as well as it does that of the victim.

    Gene Wolfe drew a convincing fictional portrayal of a torturer’s guild in his excellent Book of the New Sun. But even there the ultimate verdict on their efficacy was negative.

  • TGGP

    mtraven, would creating a Torturer’s Guild be acceptable on the condition that the Jailer’s Guild be abolished?

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    No, why should it?

    I liked Nick Bostrom’s comment. We have indeed slowly achieved a somewhat higher standard of civility than our ancestors. Progress has not been monotonic, as the various industrial-scale barbarisms of the 20th century have shown. But in fact we have mostly weaned ourselves from torture, capital punishment, punitive mutilation, and the like. We should not deliberately try to reverse this ratchet.

    BTW, in Wolfe’s book, economics was one of the arguments in favor of the torturers — it was just too impractically expensive to jail people. But that was a society in a deep decline.

  • Pseudonymous

    I suspect that “our civility” is due to there being less need for such things today.

    I like to point out the Jane Austen considered it perfectly normal to send children to war. In Mansfield Park, as an example, the brother of the heroine is sent of into the fleet as a midshipman at the age of twelve. Their family was moderately well off and called in favours, so that this could happen. Everyone considered this a great favour, and by the time the novel ended a younger brother had happily joined him.

    This should give some idea about what the alternatives were like. In a family that could afford servants.

    Our compassion is to some extent a consequence of the fact that we are in so much less danger ourselves. It is easy to be generous when you are safe and rich.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Should we declare this whole thread an empiricism-free zone? Eliezer, there might be a useful post for you to write on how people prefer certain topics to be intellectual playgrounds where empiricism isn’t introduced. It’s interesting to me how people are arguing multiple perspectives, but no side seems interested in making the topic or their position informed by empiricism.

  • Anónima

    There certainly is a bias against torture in our occidental world. But this is not true world wide. So, following the suggestion of Hopefully Anonimous,it could be a good idea to compare scientifically the results obtained by countries were torture is forbidden and the results obtained in countries were it’s part of the legal system.

    To do it well could be difficult: one would need to define what parameters one must measure to assess the success of one method or the other, collect data and so on. And then perhaps all ways of applying torture don’t get the same results.

    But, without any scientific foundation whatsoever, I suspect that they don’t really get a better result in fighting, let’s say thieves, by cutting their members than we do by putting them in prison in those countries that judge and condemn people according to the sharia law. But it’s of course, a biased conclusion that should be backed with raw data analysis. I’m sorry I haven’t the time to do it.

    Also I suspect I won’t be very wrong if I say that no one here, even the person that wrote the post, would prefer to live in one of those countries, what I find as a strong, if not scientific, argument against the use of torture in a legal system.

  • Douglas Knight

    HA,
    James Miller seems to me have made an entirely correct argument, admitting exactly where empiricism affects it, although it would be better if he’d gotten it right the first time, rather than admitting new details whenever pressed. But empirics are only relevant to deciding the correct policy, which is not, I think, an appropriate topic for this blog.

    What is an appropriate topic is how people and states reach opinions and policies. As Eliezer said, “I wonder why I think that.” I’m not sure why I’m against corporal punishment. It’s probably based on heuristics that embody empirical claims. But I can’t worry if those claims are correct before identifying them. James’s last paragraph about people’s incoherent views on prison violence has little to do with actual rates of prison violence, but mainly people’s perception of it.

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Douglas, I don’t see what you claim to see in your post. Specifically, I don’t see that Jamese miller “made an entirely correct argument” and I don’t see that he was “admitting exactly where empiricism affects it”. And I think empirics are relevant for more than “deciding the correct policy”, I think they’re also relevant for determining whether a particular position is biased or not, and for determining “how people and states reach opinions and policies”. Empirics aren’t limited to the “actual rates of prison violence”, they’re also the best way I’m aware of to determine “people’s … views on prison violence”, “people’s perception of [prison violence] and the degree to which those views are “incoherent”.

    I don’t get this desire for empiricism free intellectual play spaces, but it does seem to be a real phenomenon, and I think Eliezer would be a great person to dissect and get to the heart of this phenomenon.

  • Floccina

    I do not know about torture but I have often wondered why some prefer life in prison with no chance of parol over death.

  • Douglas Knight

    HA,
    In your second comment, you said “torturing…may reduce your and my likelihood of personally being tortured…It’s an empirical question though.” Certainly, empirics are necessary to answer this question. In theory, a sufficiently controlled experiment could directly answer it, but in practice, our best guess answer must be produced by plugging in more specific empirics into a theoretical framework.

    I admit that this conversation did not much increase my understanding of how people and states reach decisions. They are so far from logic that holding up a logical argument for comparison may not be helpful.

    You are right that my last sentence does not make sense. James Miller’s last paragraph is making an empirical claim. It is hard to draw lines between empirical claims and inference, but it seems to me that that paragraph requires very limited empirical claims about people’s beliefs.
    What would it mean to be “transparently rooted in empiricism”? That he say how he reached these beliefs?

  • TGGP

    I liked Nick Bostrom’s comment. We have indeed slowly achieved a somewhat higher standard of civility than our ancestors. Progress has not been monotonic, as the various industrial-scale barbarisms of the 20th century have shown. But in fact we have mostly weaned ourselves from torture, capital punishment, punitive mutilation, and the like. We should not deliberately try to reverse this ratchet.
    The Marxists believed communism was the endpoint of dialectical materialist history. Hegel believed the Prussian state was in his time, and Fukuyama believed market democracy was rather recently. I do not know what the future will be like. It is possible (though I do not think likely) that they will have replaced imprisonment with torture and regard our time as barbaric for locking people in jail for years at a time with the most violent people rather than a quick administration (done in a highly professional and scientifically optimized manner) of disincentive. Would you be willing to say to these hypothetical denizens of the future “Yes, our ancestors had completely wrong ideas about morality and crime and punishment. Yes our system was flawed. But no matter what you think your system is much worse than ours!”. What argument could you present to this hypothetical man (or woman, or who knows what genders and species may exist) of tomorrow that the unenlightened folks of the past could not similarly?

  • http://www.hopeanon.typepad.com Hopefully Anonymous

    Douglas, I generally agree with your most recent comments. I like this line ” in practice, our best guess answer must be produced by plugging in more specific empirics into a theoretical framework.” To answer your question to me: yes, exactly -that he didn’t transparently state how (or even if) he reached his conclusory statements from empirically derived information.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    For one thing, saying there has been gradual improvement is not the same thing as saying we’ve reached some sort of an endpoint. If I had to imagine the future of penology, my guess is that prisons will largely disappear, since the same functions of restraint and monitoring can easily be done with implantable trackers and electronic monitoring technologies. This is already happening on a small scale.

    You suggest torture will be performed in a “highly professional and scientifically optimized manner”. Maybe. I’m talking about how torture is practiced now, which is often in a professionalized and highly pseudoscientific manner that corrupts all people and institutions involved with it. You can read about how the field of psychology was co-opted and corrupted by the CIA’s Cold War torture experiments in this recent book. Somebody wanted empirical evidence, I suggest you start here.

  • Prakash

    If I can take a slight liberty in interpreting this topic as alternatives to present incarceration which might work better, I am in favour of supervised working prisons.

    Prison as of now does not allow people to work and pay back their debt and make the victim whole. Now, not all crimes can be compensated this way, but this approach reduces costs and makes sure rehabilitation is on a better track than today because of learning useful skills, and getting a chance to get back into society. Also, the victim receives a compensation.

  • http://www.atheist.net Torben

    I think one of the key differences between a lifetime in prison and supervised torture is one akin to what Sam Harris calls the perfect weapon (when distinguishing between the collateral damage of Western air raids and an equal amount of mayhem produced by blowing up a bus with a tummy belt full of nails). Nobody wants rape to happen in prisons; it’s an accidental and perhaps unavoidable byproduct. A noteworthy distinction is that it is private citizens and not the state perpetrating these acts. Crucially, we don’t think in terms of maximizing economic benefit at all times and (moral) costs.

    Say someone came up with a solid, mathematical proof that sending the poorest 15% of the population into forced labor camps was economically beneficial to society as a whole and perhaps even to (most of) the people at risk. Would this be a wise path to pursue, even if some of the laborers preferred this?

    Incarcerating people for long periods of time is the least invasive measure we have in deterring and preventing crime. Prisoners’ bodies and minds are not breached, their personal integrity is not compromised. We have not dehumanized them, but only taken the minimally intrusive precautions to protect society from their doings.

    Finally, European prison systems don’t normally dish out as long prison sentences as the US; many rehabilitation efforts are also more succesful. Furthermore, incarceration seems to be the least cost-effective means of preventing crime; improving high school completion rates the most. Why only consider the most provocative alternative to incarceration? It seems to me similar to assume the most provocative explanation of differing cognitive test outcomes. It seems to me a more rational approach is to encourage crime prevention, reduce incaceration rates and prevent prison rape.

    • Peter David Jones

      “..it’s an accidental and perhaps unavoidable byproduct…”

      Perhaps if everyone stops thinking its unavoidable, it can be avoided.

  • itchy

    Many convicted criminals, however, don’t pose a risk to society. Men convicted of securities fraud, for example, are frequently barred from the stock market and so their freedom won’t endanger society.

    So you propose torture only for white-collar criminals? In what way are they not a risk to society upon being freed? It would seem they’d be just as likely to re-commit their chosen crime as a non-white-collar criminal would be. In what way is torture a better deterrent, especially, if, as your comments suggest, the criminal would prefer torture over imprisonment?

    And given that the knock on white-collar sentences is that the criminals are shuffled into ‘Club Med’-style prisons, why do you think a sentence of torture would amount to more than a slap on the wrist?

    Personally, I don’t look to the prison system to provide retribution or much of a deterrence. That’s for medieval types. Prison is about incapacitation, and, hopefully, rehabilitation. And, yes, I’m willing to pony up for that, just as you’re willing to pony up to send a huckster back out on the street to bilk us all out of money through the back door by pretending you’ve deterred him. Just because it doesn’t show up on the budget doesn’t mean you didn’t pay.

    • Andrei Bilderburger

      Deterrence isn’t medieval. It’s something all sane people seek.

  • Scoop

    I think the rehabilitation discussion has it entirely backward. From all that I have read and heard, a stint in prison, surrounded by criminals, is far more likely to harden criminals and encourage criminality than it is to rehabilitate anyone. I’m not sure I support the torture option, but it would seem that keeping criminals apart would be a major argument in its favor — unless anyone out there has data that argues the other way.

  • http://www.myspace.com/dynamopsychism DaCracka

    As a person who has run afoul of the law once or twice, corporal punishment would be preferrable to incarceration. Primarily because the state would decide an appropriate amount of punishment relative to the crime. In a D.O.C. facility, physical harm is frequently administered by other prisoners as well as gaurds. Judges aren’t 100% fair, but I’d trust their judgement overall more than the judgement of gaurds and inmates.

    Before joining general population, I was stripped naked, made to take a shower in scalding water, and washed with a harsh soap. I’m sure designed to limit (not eliminate, which would be impossible in a lock-down facility,) antibiotic-resistant staph infections, which were prevelant enough to warrant a pamphlet. Staph costs lives and limbs, which would seem an extreme punichment for any crime short of murder, but is acceptable as a necessary side effect of imprisonment.

    Despite someone’s thought that prison rape is a fantasy of the writers on Oz, that, also, merited a seperate pamphlet, with suggestions for avoiding involuntary sodomy.

    I don’t know of any judge who would advocate that violation, even in retribution for a rapists’ crimes. Even so, a judge would, presumably, pre determine the appropriate duration, location, and medical concerns involved.

    Finally, this experience was BEFORE a trial, before I was “proven guilty in a court of law.” Before I faced a jury of my peers.

    Torture seems a little less evil, when you look at both sides of the issue. A caning seems downright humanitarian in comparison.

    Unless we can garuntee no rapes, infections, and beatings, imprisonment seems worse than torture, because it’s inflicted randomly and without concern for benefit or rehabilitation. No-one is stepping in to end this expiriment, and it’s high time we did.

    (I don’t advocate torture, or corporal punishment, but I think the current option is worse, in many ways.)

    • Andrei Bilderburger

      The only way to guarantee no rapes, infections, and beatings is to keep all prisoners in solitary. This is generally considered inhumane and is also quite expensive.

  • Justice For Victims

    Felons should be used for medical experiments. When you commit criminal acts against society you forfeit all rights as a human being. Spending tax money to incarcerate these animals is outrageous; they have forfeited their right to live as human beings by violating the rights of innocent people.

    At least through medical experimentation these dregs have some hope of serving some sort of a purpose in society, and can be proud of their role in advancing human medicine. Also, by contracting them out to pharmaceutical companies, they can help to offset some of the financial cost which they have inflicted upon the non-criminal taxpayer. If they are unfit for medical experimentation they should simply be shot in the head. White collar criminals should not be exempt from this.

    Anyone who disagrees is a fool. Feeding, housing, and clothing these parasites should not be a burden that is borne by me or any other taxpayer who does not engage in criminal activity.

    • sboo

      bad idea.

      incentivizes pharmaceutical companies to imprison innocents.

      people who are imprisoned for drug possession, are people, not animals. “if you go to prison for breaking the law you’re evil” assumes both “you really did break the law” and “the law is a good law”.

      also, you’re a felon
      http://www.killercop.com/perv/Youre_Probably_a_Federal_Criminal.pdf

      • Andrei Bilderburger

        We do NOT want bureaucracies to benefit from torture or it will get out of control in no time.

    • Andrei Bilderburger

      I view justice for victims as more along the lines of implementing a little Sharia. Who knows what is justice better than the victim or their family and friends?

      After conviction, throw the judge out of the courtroom and let the victim or survivors select the punishment from among the options permitted by law.

      THAT is GUARANTEED to have a deterrent effect! That will get criminals thinking about how the victims feel as it will now be coupled to what the criminal risks if caught.

      E. g. rape a teen-age girl? Better hope her, her father and her brothers are forgiving turn the other cheek Christian types so they don’t vote for life without parole plus 50,000 years in solitary with occasional blasts from a rock-salt loaded shotgun.

      This proposal may not protect priests and nuns and Quakers adequately so perhaps the judge would need the authority to set a minimum punishment that would come into play if the victim were too lenient (or were intimidated by criminals).

      If you add the prospect of torture as a punishment crimes that create victims will come to a screeching halt. Is a pissed off ex husband really going to sock his former wife if she and her mother are offered their choice of horsewhips or cats’o’nine tails while he’s tied to a post?

      • Peter David Jones

        If brutal punishment were effective puishment, the US would have a low rate of crime instead of high one.

      • Peter David Jones

        “After conviction, throw the judge out of the courtroom and let the
        victim or survivors select the punishment from among the options
        permitted by law.

        THAT is GUARANTEED to have a deterrent effect! That will get
        criminals thinking about how the victims feel as it will now be coupled
        to what the criminal risks if caught.”

        You can get criminals to undertand how victimes feel by arranging meetings with victims.

        Your scheme for a vengeance-based jusstice system tacitly assumes that nobody will want to exact revenge in turn. Everybody sees themselves as being in the right, which is why vendettas run and run.

    • Peter David Jones

      “When you commit criminal acts against society you forfeit all rights as a human being”

      Says who? And where’s the bar? Can I have your liver if you drop litter?

  • nobody

    I can’t believe I’m reading this. I’m a victim of torture, and I can’t even say anything coherent, because of the rage and horror this puts in me. Torture is not punishment, but crime against humanity. How dare you?

    • sboo

      prison is torture

      • Andrei Bilderburger

        Being a crime victim is often torture, always traumatic, and unlike being a criminal, the victim usually did nothing to deserve the punishment they got. Thus if we can prevent future crimes by torturing some criminals the total amount of torture people experience is NOT increased, and at least more of it goes to people who deserve some sort of consequence.

    • Andrei Bilderburger

      He doesn’t agree it is any more serious crime against humanity than imprisonment.

      You’re upset because you were tortured for no good reason. You’d be just as upset if you were imprisoned for no good reason. If you had any significant amount of money and property and the state took it all, you’d be upset too.

      Criminals are always upset when they get punished, because they don’t think the crime was wrong – they wouldn’t have committed it if they did.

      So the legitimate question is what are the permissible ways of imposing a negative consequence on the perpetrator that will protect society, not whether imposing the consequence on innocent bystanders for fun is appropriate.

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  • Jon

    Look at the Middle Ages. Public torture was common practice. It didn’t deter crime. In fact, it often incited violence.

  • Peter David Jones

    How about climbing *up* the slippery slope, by no longer tolerating prison rape?

    Yet our society considers it barbaric for a criminal justice system to
    deliberately torture criminals in ways that may well impose less
    physical and emotional costs than rape does. – See more at:
    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/08/bias-against-to.html#sthash.ApTNEYtq.dpuf

    Yet our society considers it barbaric for a criminal justice system to
    deliberately torture criminals in ways that may well impose less
    physical and emotional costs than rape does. – See more at:
    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/08/bias-against-to.html#sthash.ApTNEYtq.dpuf

    Yet our society considers it barbaric for a criminal justice system to
    deliberately torture criminals in ways that may well impose less
    physical and emotional costs than rape does. – See more at:
    http://www.overcomingbias.com/2007/08/bias-against-to.html#sthash.ApTNEYtq.dpuf

  • Peter David Jones

    I’d like to underline that the impersonal nature of imprisonment (as opposed, particularly, to the torture-by-vicitm scenario) is a part
    of the message..it signals that a crime is a crime against society…

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