August 21, 2006

The punishment that deserves the crime

I was reading a forum article in a Chinese weekly magazine (Beijing Review) on abolishment of capital crime for corruption. Death penalty is what I call a safe conversation topic, where you can't go too far in a discussion, because every possible argument, be it pro or con, has already been uttered in one form or another. What struck me in this article though, was a reader's suggestion to use the typically Chinese approach to punishment: shame, to tackle corruption. It's a safe practice that I've experienced on myself back in primary school. If you do wrong, you are told off, but not in person – in front of all of your classmates, or, if possible, if fronts of the entire school: pupils, teachers, maintenance staff – they will all gladly give you that gaze of disdain while your capital crimes are being announced over the school radio. It used to do good to my personality – it'd made me a flawless person. But will it really work with corrupted officials?

The reader suggested that for someone who has accumulated much wealth thru corruption the worst punishment may actually be losing face, losing reputation and losing all that fortune that used to open doors for him/her. The capital punishment gives the runaway–abroad criminals a precious excuse to seek refuge in any country that does not practice or support death penalty and consequently does not repatriate criminals who may face a death sentence at home. However, for the people at home, who may have suffered the dire consequences of corruption (at any level), death penalty sometimes just seem too humane, too quick and too painless. After some careful consideration, it may seem inescapably clear that the good old shaming may actually work for the good of both the criminals and the victims. It would spare the lives of the convicted ones; it would provide some sort of an answer and consolation for the victims; and it would also make the Chinese government look better in the eyes of its western counterparts and may provide a chance for the government to track down the stolen funds and inject it back into the country's economy.

This has led me to think about punishments in general. If punishments were personalised, wouldn't they be much more efficient? After all, what's one person's candy may be another person's stick. But then again, not all criminals commit crimes out of a liking. By comparison, imprisonment is perhaps one of the most humane ways to treat offenders.


- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Alex

    "If punishments were personalised, wouldn't they be much more efficient?"

    A contradiction in terms – while personalising a punishment to something most effective for the individual would prove useful, due to the time and effort required to research and implement such a thing for each person would prove highly inefficient given the large numbers of criminals requiring rehabilitation. As a result, most countries settle for the catch–all 'one–size–fits–all' technique resulting in imprisonment or death to handle the problem, or at least postpone it until the end of the sentence.

    21 Aug 2006, 19:33

  2. If punishments were personalised, the punitive system would be more efficient. It's the personalization of punishment that can take some decades to figure out. The one punishment I can think of for one particular crime is castration for rapists. Altho that may also prove to be controversial, since it may nurture and harbour even greater intercorsual repression that may subsequently result in alternative forms of aggression. So it really is hard to figure out a punishment that would fit the crime.

    22 Aug 2006, 08:45

  3. Hamid Sirhan

    Alex I think you missed that she was talking about completely arbitrary punishments… ie the Judge chooses which punishment fits the crime… otherwise as you said she's being illogical.

    And if she's arguing that such arbitrary powers be put in the hands of judges then it's because of a lack of understanding of various legal systems. "Hey judge! Now I know I murdered three women, how about I give you 100,000 and you give me 5 days in jail?" or "Hey isn't that the bastard who stole my car? OK bam. 30 years."

    Now of course then you'd have to have a system of checks and balances… in which case you'd end up where we are today where we essentially have a system of punishments–fitting–the–crime (well at least apparently so).

    Now I'm a big believer in the death penalty for rape/murder but hey there's the Human Rights Act 1998 we have to think about and wahay I just opened up a whoooole can of worms :D.

    22 Aug 2006, 10:14


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