“With authority, punishment will pass away. This will be a great gain – a gain, in fact, of incalculable value. As one reads history, not in the expurgated editions written for school-boys and passmen, but in the original authorities of each time, one is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted; and a community is infinitely more brutalised by the habitual employment of punishment, than it is by the occurrence of crime. It obviously follows that the more punishment is inflicted the more crime is produced, and most modern legislation has clearly recognised this, and has made it its task to diminish punishment as far as it thinks it can. Wherever it has really diminished it, the results have always been extremely good. The less punishment, the less crime. When there is no punishment at all, crime will either cease to exist, or, if it occurs, will be treated by physicians as a very distressing form of dementia, to be cured by care and kindness. For what are called criminals nowadays are not criminals at all. Starvation, and not sin, is the parent of modern crime. That indeed is the reason why our criminals are, as a class, so absolutely uninteresting from any psychological point of view. They are not marvellous Macbeths and terrible Vautrins. They are merely what ordinary, respectable, commonplace people would be if they had not got enough to eat. When private property is abolished there will be no necessity for crime, no demand for it; it will cease to exist. Of course, all crimes are not crimes against property, though such are the crimes that the English law, valuing what a man has more than what a man is, punishes with the harshest and most horrible severity, if we except the crime of murder, and regard death as worse than penal servitude, a point on which our criminals, I believe, disagree. But though a crime may not be against property, it may spring from the misery and rage and depression produced by our wrong system of property-holding, and so, when that system is abolished, will disappear. When each member of the community has sufficient for his wants, and is not interfered with by his neighbour, it will not be an object of any interest to him to interfere with anyone else. Jealousy, which is an extraordinary source of crime in modern life, is an emotion closely bound up with our conceptions of property, and under Socialism and Individualism will die out.”
Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism
“When it comes to crime and punishment, far too often politicians confuse toughness, longer sentences, greater use of imprisonment, harsher treatment, with effectiveness, dealing with addictions, mental health, unemployment and homelessness and requiring offenders to make amends to their victims.”
Juliet Lyon, Director of the Prison Reform Trust
“Train any population rationally, and they will be rational. Furnish honest and useful employments to those so trained, and such employments they will greatly prefer to dishonest or injurious occupations. It is beyond all calculation the interest of every government to provide that training and that employment; and to provide both is easily practicable.”
I want to challenge a set of beliefs that are absolutely fundamental to our society. Beliefs that are not only embedded in our social practice and our laws, but in the language we speak.
The most core of those beliefs is in the idea of what we call ‘good’ and ‘evil’. The word ‘bad’ is used to present a less superstitious impression, but in truth it still conveys the same superstitious meaning. It is put upon us from a very early age that people and actions alike can be divided cleanly into ‘good’ and ‘bad’. It is this idea that forms the basis of our concept of ‘justice’. These ideas are collectively thrust upon us by parents, teachers, churches and entertainment. God and the Devil, Superman and Lex Luthor, the Sheriff and the Outlaw; all are manifestations of the same conceptual divide. When we tell our children about the ‘bad people’, we still do so in a superstitious manner, identifying them in terms of their actions rather than any inherent factor that causes them to be ‘bad’; as if they are not people who perform actions for a reason, but some manifestation of supernatural evil. In fact the logic behind this, as far as the ordinary thinker is concerned, runs dry at this point. It is simply established that there are ‘bad people’ who ‘are bad’ and therefore do ‘bad things’ because they are ‘bad’. (more…)