Criminal Justice

Want to Save Money on Prisons? Bring Back Flogging, Prof Says

Why does the American public have such distaste for flogging? If you offered a prisoner a choice between five years in prison and 10 lashes, most would choose the latter, according to a law and political science professor. And it’s a lot cheaper.

In an opinion column for the Washington Post, assistant professor Peter Moskos of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice advocates flogging as he makes a point about America’s problem with prisons. “Today, the prison-industrial complex has become little more than a massive government-run make-work program that profits from human bondage,” he writes. “To oversimplify—just a bit—we pay poor, unemployed rural whites to guard poor, unemployed urban blacks.”

Today 2.3 million people are behind bars, compared to 338,000 people 40 years ago. Moskos attributes the increase to “longer and mandatory sentences combined with an idiotic war on drugs.” America has more prisons than China, Moskos says, and more prisoners than soldiers.

Moskos acknowledges that some people—such as pedophiles, terrorists and the “truly psychopathic”—are too dangerous to release. But for the others, incarceration doesn’t deter crime and may increase it, he says. When a drug dealer is arrested, for example, there is a job opening for others, and violence may determine who gets the position. Prison also destroys families and increases recidivism, when compared to alternative sentences.

“Is there a third way, something better than both flogging and prison?” Moskos asks. “I hope so. But until we figure out what that is and have the political fortitude to adopt it, we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Flogging may be distasteful, but surely there’s little harm in offering the choice. If it takes a defense of flogging to make us face the truth about prison and punishment, I say bring on the lash.”

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.