Before I pose my question, I will clarify what I mean by 'punitive justice' in this context.
'Justice' means only the creation and enforcement of laws by a recognized political agency/ authority. There is no implication that these laws are just or moral per se.
'Punitive' means that the afore mentioned law enforcement punishes by design. The law making and enforcing agencies deliberately punish offenders for their crimes under the belief that punishment has intrinsic value.
The question I pose is this: Is there still a place for punitive justice in modern society?
This isn't intended a 'yes' or 'no' question. Shades of grey are encouraged. Various anarchistic views are also relevant. I don't care about thread drift here provided it is drift and not total derailment. Perhaps I'm thinking too narrowly on this subject.
On a side note, disagreeing with my views on this subject is punishable with death by forced Glenn Beck marathon!!!! Grrr.
I fully support Loop.
My answer to Judith's question is that we should attempt to rehabilitate the offender while incarcerated to ensure that once released back into society he can rejoin as a productive member and not reoffend. The horrible act has been commited, and it is impossible to reverse. Rape is about violence (it is not a sexual act) and violence is most often the expression of deeper psychological issues which may be treated.
The pursuit of revenge is much effective in reducing crime than rehabilitating the offender. As for evidence, the least violent societies are generally among those with the most liberal treatment of convicts.
While politicians and policymakers everywhere, such as Rudolph Giuliani as Mayor of New York City, took inappropriate credit for the falling crime rates during the 1990s, the decreased crime rates had very little (if anything) to do with greater imprisonment rates, tougher law enforcement, or anything the politicians implemented. Crime rates went down in the 1990s simply because the baby boomers “aged out.” They became too old (and, as I explain in another post, too married) to commit crimes. Some criminologists indeed predicted the fall of crime rates in the 1990s before it happened. Second, recidivism always goes up as a necessary consequence of falling crime rates. As the developmental psychologist Terrie E. Moffitt explains in her classic 1993 article in Psychological Review, there are roughly two types of criminals: adolescence limited and life-course persistent. The adolescence limiteds comprise the vast majority of criminals at any given time, and this is the type of criminals that I discuss in my previous series on criminals. They become increasingly delinquent, violent, and criminal in their late adolescence and early adulthood, then begin to desist from crime in late adulthood into their middle ages, as they get married, settle down, and switch to more conventional ways of life. The life-course persistents, on the other hand, are commonly known as “career criminals.” As the name implies, they do not age out of their criminality, and continue to commit crimes throughout most of their lives. This excellent figure from Moffitt’s 1993 article elucidates her argument.
While many men follow the life trajectories of the adolescence limiteds, the life-course persistents (career criminals) are a genetically distinct type. The late great behavior geneticist Linda Mealey estimated that sociopaths, who are prone to commit crimes because they are incapable of feeling remorse or empathize with others’ pain, comprise about 3-4% of the male population and less than 1% of the female population. The sociopaths nonetheless account for about 20% of the US prison population, and between 33% and 80% of chronic criminal offenders, many of whom are Moffitt’s life-course persistents.
The sociopaths are genetically distinct from the rest of the population, and their prevalence does not vary by social factors, such as the population age structure. As the proportion of adolescence limiteds decreases among the criminals due to the changing population age structure (because there are relatively fewer young men), the proportion of life-course persistents among them must necessarily rise. Since it is the life-course persistents (career criminals) who are most likely to experience recidivism, by returning to prison again and again, there must exist a necessary inverse relationship between crime rates (which are largely set by the number of adolescence limiteds) and the recidivism rates (which are largely set by the number of life-course persistents). So regardless of how tough the law enforcement or how effective the prison system, the lower the crime rates, the higher the recidivism rates in any society at any time. You can have one or the other, but not both at the same time.
One important implication of Moffitt’s groundbreaking work is that all attempts to “rehabilitate” criminals in prisons are doomed to failure. Adolescence limiteds will age out of crime when they are sufficiently old and married anyway, whether they go to prison or not. Life-course persistents will continue to commit crime their entire lives because they are genetically inclined to do so, whether they go to prison or not.