behind-bars

Among societal norms, there are few that are as widely accepted as the way in which crime is punished. Criminals go to a cage. This is seen, almost universally, as an appropriate method of dealing with crime, and among most people, as the way that a criminal justice system should function.

There are serious problems with acceptance of this procedure, both logically and morally, which problems are made worse by the existence of alternatives which do not suffer from the same shortcomings.

In the current criminal justice model, the victims of the crime, their relatives, and totally innocent third parties are forced, through taxation, to pay for the investigation, prosecution, and incarceration of the perpetrator of the crime. This taxation is imposed upon them, at gunpoint if necessary, regardless of whether or not they have consented to the taxes, and regardless of their moral sentiments about the methods used to punish criminals. Thus, the victims are victimized twice: once by the criminal, and once by the State, who uses threats, intimidation, and force – the tools of the criminal – to extract the funding for the punishment of the criminal. Imagine how this works – a woman is raped and murdered, the perpetrator is caught, and her grieving family is forced, at gunpoint if necessary, to pay for his housing, his medical care, his meals, and his laundry. If they do not wish to participate in funding his incarceration, they will themselves be subject to arrest and caging. This is a horrific moral abomination which adds the travesty of insult to the grievous injury of having their loved one taken from them. It is not justice. It is injustice.

In addition to this injustice, the criminal himself is placed in proximity to other criminals. In this condition, the small-time, petty criminals are housed with hardened predators, allowing them to develop the desire and techniques to perpetrate greater crimes themselves after their eventual return to society. And once these criminals are returned to society, how can they be expected to function as productive agents, having spent years in a cage, with an absolute and totalitarian authority controlling their every action? After spending years in a situation of forced association, in a place where physical and sexual abuse are ubiquitous, the incarcerated perpetrators of crimes will be released into society – literally left on the side of the road. Given this, what is the likelihood that they will act civilly? How will a person who has been put in a cage by society, then beaten and raped for years, react to society after his release? What is the most likely outcome? Can there be any reasonable expectation but that he will act with criminal intent toward this society? This is an inescapable result of his caging.

Given the myriad types, causes, perpetrators, and situations of crime, how can a single response – a cage – possibly be at all successful as a method of handling criminal justice? A desperate single mother steals gasoline – to the cage; a businessman engages in financial crimes – to the cage; a career criminal is caught for the fifth time – to the cage; a divorced man struggling with depression injures another driver after leaving the bar at closing time – to the cage. A young man fails to appear on his court date – to the cage.

How can it be that a single response is the most appropriate in all these varying situations? How can a cage be an effective method to deter each of these crimes and to rehabilitate the perpetrators? How can it be that putting any criminal in a cage can give justice to the victims? Without restoring that which was lost, there can be no criminal justice. Caging criminals actually exacerbates the injustice of crime – it actively prevents the criminals from making any kind of restitution toward their victims. A priori, without even having to cage a single person, we can know that the pervasive use of cages to house criminals will fail as a means to reforming criminals and producing justice.

Can we not, at this point, reject the idea of using a cage as the primary method of criminal punishment outright? Is it not obvious that caging is not an appropriate place for the majority of criminals, and is, in its current implementation, morally prohibited?

Let me pause for a moment to clarify two things: it may be that caging is an appropriate method for dealing with violent criminals who cannot be reformed and who represent an imminent danger to society. I do not dispute this.

Second, you may object that many petty criminals are not sent to a cage, but subject to some other kind of disciplinary technique. It is true that they may not be sent to a cage straightaway, but the lesser punishments they receive are always, always backed with the threat of caging.

To this point, we have been considering the issue of criminals who are caged after rightly being found guilty of their crimes. There are, however, two other categories of caging – the caging of those who have not yet been tried, and the caging of those who have been wrongly found guilty.

Obviously nobody would defend as just the caging of innocent people wrongly found guilty. No argument is necessary on this point. But it is impossible to separate the caging of the innocent and the guilty – as long as caging is used as a method of criminal justice, innocent people will find themselves behind bars. Once experienced, the brutal sexual and physical violence and the extreme mental punishment inherent in the use of cages can never be erased out of the human psyche. The time lost to the cage can never be returned. The deep gouges in the human soul created by the imprisonment of the innocent cannot easily be filled.

The caging of those who have not been tried for their crimes is a bizarre perversion, especially when the alleged crime is non-violent. What is the logical and defense for caging those who haven’t been convicted of crimes? What is to be done when one of the caged is later found to be innocent? How are they to be repaid for their suffering? As it is now, they aren’t repaid in any way. But if they were to be repaid, the money would come from the victims of the crime, and innocent third parties, at gunpoint if necessary, in the form of taxes. How can a system which claims to administer justice possibly use this procedure? If this procedure does generate some kind of justice, under what understanding of the nature of justice does it do so? Surely this strange form of justice can have nothing to do with restoring victims’ property. Surely it can have nothing to do with refraining from punishing the innocent. Surely it can have nothing to do with reformation or correction of criminals.

There are various alternatives to the use of caging in the criminal justice system. Insurance can serve to make victims whole, for example. In existing society, property insurance can replace or repair property lost or damaged by crime. Health insurance can fund the repair of the body. Supplemental insurance can pay for lost time. Civil lawsuits can award monetary damages to the victims of crime. These institutions function in nearly every developed society. In this way, victims can be justly restored following a crime.

There are alternatives to caging. There are voluntary work programs, education – both academic and vocational – which are designed for the reformation of criminals into productive members of society. Both of these methods have been shown to be successful.

Finally, there is the most powerful deterrent of all –social and economic ostracism. In a developed society, ostracism means misery and almost certainly premature death. The use of ostracism violates no rights – it is merely the expression of the natural condition of free association. There are no funding requirements which must be met by theft. There are no inescapable moral problems. There are no rapes, no kidnappings, and no violence involved with the use of ostracism.

Even the worst case – that criminals are not punished at all – is no worse than what we have currently. The criminal justice system (so named not because it handles criminals, but rather because criminals operate it) gives legitimacy to theft, kidnapping, slavery, and sometimes murder by a certain class of elevated, institutionalized criminals – to which no punishment is handed.

Given these many problems with and alternatives to the use of cages, there can be, among reasonable people, no justification for the continued reliance on and prolific use of human cages. They are a brutal and outdated relic, monuments to social failure. They are a shameful stain on the human species, and it ought to be the goal of all humane societies to end their use.