Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
He’s Bad, She’s Mad (2019) (lrb.co.uk)
24 points by Tomte 11 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 19 comments

> Before the centralisation of the prison estate in the later 19th century, criminal punishment mostly meant exile or execution.

It is a profound dilemma - for me at least - which among the two is worse: To live in a society in which the sovereign maintains warehouses of living human bodies; or kills people for non-capital offenses.

I would like a society with "neither". And if you ever spend a while in prison, or your friends do, or even if you read some accounts like this one, or Foucault's "History of madness in the age of reason", I think you might draw nearer to this conclusion.

What else should a society do about criminals?

Rehabilitate them, give funds to initiatives that attempt to do something positive with those people.

There are other things to look into, of course: the causes, like inequality, lack of education, mental illness, health, the justice system, legalize things that should not be illegal. It's also possible to hold a register of those individuals, and to signal the public about it, too?

At least be open with the idea. It's fine if you disagree with it. If you're fine with capital punishment or prisons, then I guess there is no point for debate?

This is one of the things that popped into my head recently and isn't going away - society has accepted that "chronic, usually irrational sadness" is a mental health issue which can and should be treated. But a "chronic, usually irrational tendency for violence" is considered repugnant and worthy of long imprisonment. True, the effects fall on different categories of people (yourself vs others) and it might be difficult to identify it as a mental health issue, but I'd assume many repeat offenders might benefit a lot from psychological support. I know The Economist had an article recently about how the incidence of brain injuries is a lot higher in prison than in the general population [1]

I'm no psychology expert, I'd love to hear an informed opinion on this.

[1] https://www.economist.com/leaders/2021/03/27/a-huge-share-of...

Having a chronic, irrational sadness is way less likely to incur in damage to third parties, while chronic, irrational violence puts vulnerable people in danger. Emphasis in vulnerable, irrational violence doesn't mean the person, if bad-natured enough, cannot pick easier targets, specially women and children. Their violence might also manifest in manipulation and abuse "as an outlet".

It's less about getting help and more about wanting to get help. The depressive person might want that help because they realize they can hardly function, the violent person might not want that help because they discovered they can use violence as a tool.

And that's why it's considered repugnant.

Ok, and understanding/knowing that somehow doesn't change the tone to "said person should be helped"? I get why it's seen that way if you're oblivious to mental illness being a thing, but we're presumably more capable of understanding mental illness, at least at society level.

Yes, of course they should get help, I'm mostly talking of why it's perceived that way.

>"chronic, usually irrational tendency for violence" is considered repugnant and worthy of long imprisonment. True, the effects fall on different categories of people (yourself vs others)

well first off some depressive people show an increased tendency towards violence https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4520382/ (although also of course it is a well known statistic that being depressed often makes you a victim of violent crime as well or at least there is some relation between the two)

also in my experience people who commit violence often suffer for the violence they have committed although that is very much dependent on the person.

And if they do not suffer, does that not imply that some mental functions available to the majority of people is lacking in them? I'm not trying to excuse them if they're culpable, but trying to fix instead of vilifying seems even more important when the cost of the actions falls on others.

I'd recommend a read of "Why They Kill" by Richard Rhodes - which very much points in the direction of the tendency to violence behaving like an illness. (It does identify clear intervention points, too)

Rehabilitation is all well and good, but in the mean time the rest of society deserves to be protected. What do you propose to do with criminals who aren't rehabilitated yet? Even in the best of cases it isn't a fast process.

Saying we should just rehabilitate criminals is like saying we should just cure people with cancer.

Reliable rehabilitation doesn't exist.

You're _contrasting_ "society" and "criminals". Well, criminals are part of society. Some of us are criminals (or if you like: Have committed, or will commit, crimes). And - the extent of criminality in society is the result of policy (social policies in general and policing, prosecutorial and punitive policies in particular). The US has an incredible number of criminals (and jailed criminals). Some countries have more interpersonal violence, say, but less crime. Many (probably most) countries have a lot less of both.

Also, you're implicitly assuming that the state is the instrument of society; but this is at most partly true.

Finally, is criminality in the nature of some people? Is it a character trait? If it is not, then can we even answer your question? Is "deterrence" or "rehabilitation" (two common answers to your question) even meaningful? Especially when some acts or behaviors get de-criminalized, or criminalized, over time? Homoesexual relations; use of various substances; squatting real-estate; expressing different kinds of opinions; etc.

So, yeah, I've shirked your question, but I really don't think it's a useful one the way you phrased it.

So, think about this. What if you could ship offenders who reach a threshold (violent felony) and you had a place to ship them to. A big island or large area 5000sq mi, let’s say. Let that body set their own rules within that geographic area. How would they organize themselves and mete out justice?

[not to be confused with early Australia or whatever in pop culture].

I think there are many reasons this is morally and politically unacceptable.

But to name just one practical objection: this would only intensify policing of borders (internal to a state's territory or otherwise). Siberian exiles of Tsarist Russia were quite frequently able to make it back to the urban west. Leon Trotsky is one famous example.

You could ease concerns by making it a choice. Regular prison with whatever sentence or they can live out their sentence in this area.

They’d make the rules they live by. There is no “man”. It’s just them.

At that point, you might as well just have a genuinely rehabilitative prison area of the kind many European countries run.


Similarly Stalin was sent to Siberian prisons/work camps in early life. Every time he managed to talk his way out with the guards. Though unlike Trotsky, he went east afterwards.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact