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Robert Blecker
Permanent Punitive Segregation « Back to Story

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I can understand the bleeding heart liberals who no longer adhere to the old mandate 'an eye for an eye system of justice, but still punishment should fit the crime! No privileges beyond exercise and there meals a day should be allowed for death row/ now lifers. I n the old days B.C. when somebody committed murder, the body of the dead person was strapped to the murderer's back and he was forced to go everywhere with the body! I can't imagine a more fitting form of punishment for the violation of the commandment "Thou Shall Not Kill".
what can I say but am extremely grateful to be privy to such a straight-shooting publication which serves to educate and enlighten me to much needed information not censored by the federal govt. Thanks...
Andrew MacKie-Mason January 27, 2013 at 9:16 PM
I criticize this piece in this post:
Couldn't agree with you more
Sounds great! But it will never happen. Libs don't want to kill or even imprison criminals.
My sense is that, like the detective in Nazi Germany who rooted out a serial killer and was rewarded by being sent to his almost-certain death at the Russian center--Nazi Germany doesn't have such killers--we in the USA really can't imagine that some of our bad guys are really bad guys--a bit like Rome's refusal to admit the sexual abuse of priests over the last decades.
I thoroughly agree with this wise and prudent essay, with one proviso: the really bad guys should be given hard time involving being placed in a quarry with big rocks, and provided with a 12 pound hammer with which to make small rocks. School children would be bussed out to view the miscreants and early on taught the rewards of misbehavior.
We must not be visiting the same prisons. Every time someone makes blanket statements about what they've witnessed in prison, presenting it as the rule or the universal, I know it's untrue. 50 states and hundreds of prisons. Cultures vary. One man's country club prison is another man's endless solitary confinement. Tailoring punishment to fit the crime should certainly be an aim, but we've got massive problems with longterm solitary confinement, imprisoning the mentally ill, mandatory minimums for drug crimes, the unequal application of the death penalty and on and on. If someone gives up their freedom for LIFE but gets a TV or internet, I'm over it. I'm worried about the innocent or the victimized or the unjustly detained - 100s of thousands of them - in our prison system. We don't under punish in America.
Bon temps jolie Here's what Jesus would say about it from Matthew 5:21 "Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgement" I think its fair to say that the judgement means eternal hellfire and perhaps PPS is preferable to that.
I read the article again and find it even more appalling than before. What he is advocating is a program of systematically driving a person insane with the deprivation that he wants to impose. And this would require a level of sadism on the part of the "correction" officers that I would be frightened to meet anyone who might be assigned to facilitate and "guard" the result of his insanity production. FYI: I have taught at the leading college of criminal justice in NYC for 24 years.
"What should life be like for the worst of the worst?"

There should be no life for the worst of the worst. They should be executed.
"To fulfill their constitutional right to exercise, they would labor daily but never play."

How can one be made to labor if good behavior can't lead to early release and physical punishment isn't allowed?
From the headline, I expected an ACLU perspective. Instead, Mr. Blecker challenges society to ACCEPT and live with the EVIL these men and women impose on humankind through their victims.

My experience in law enforcement - not corrections - demonstrated that none of the offenders I encountered feared retribution or getting caught! And the worse were the adolescents and young men who found the entire exercise of their powers over another as their due and evidence of their worth.

Evil exists in our world, and appears to be growing and flourishing. The past several decades have produced so-called adults who take no responsibility for their actions and believe what they want is owed to them. The past few years of two decades of teaching criminal justice, I am lucky to find ONE student who understands the standards of ethics that are NOT situational. Nearly every student's response to whatever the ethical question is "depends" and most often that depends is what's in it for them.

I understand the perspective of the men and women tasked to 'care for' these prisoners. And realize, the men and women staffing these jails/prisons, the courts, the attorneys, the investigators and probation/parole officers, all come from the same community that fails to teach responsibility, respect and standards of ethical behavior.

EXCEPT for the posting of victims photos to the prisoner, I agree with nearly all of Blecker's points. But I know that these evil men and women fantasize about their victims and their actions involving these men, women and adults. So giving the photos would only encourage. Instead, keep ALL human-kind stimulants away - keep them in a deep dark cave.
"Does prison exist to punish people?"

Yes. Or it is a monstrosity.

If it rehabilates, if it deters, if it prevents crime by incapitating -- all these are nice. But all them would be monstrous except on the grounds that the criminal deserves them, as punishment. Even in Norway, where the mass murderer got so light a sentence, and it was justified on grounds of avoiding retributive justice -- still, they imposed a mininum sentence that no amount of "restorative justice" can annul. In their hearts, they know the purpose is retribution.
"I think it's time to come up with a way to make these people productive for society -"

What? And take work from unions?
Retribution in this punitive atmosphere presupposes that felons are permanently made to be less than human so that what they did to others will be done to them "until death" .... punished/tormented.
Anyone who dehumanizes another is dehumanized by such retaliation. Restorative justice is not viciously retributive. JUSTICE is not
VENGEANCE. I know of no religious motive that supports such wengeance.
"Photos of their victims would adorn their cells."
And they could relive their enjoyment of the crimes they committed as they play with their one,enjoyment producing, toy that you can't take away from them.
As one who once ran a military jail and studied criminology, I know that many unfit for freedom in a free society live very amiably in prisons, so there is little reason to fear being convicted again. They accommodate. Prisons should be unpleasant and the warden MUST rule according to the rules. It should never be pleasant for the PPS. This is an overdue tour de force by one who obviously knows well the psychology of the hardened, violent criminal and the redistributive justice due them.
Sounds like a good alternative to LPWOP
The maximum security federal prisons seem to do what the prof wants...and I have always thought they and what he proposes is worse than anything I ever read as happening in the Gulag for instance... To have to read about, to see these prisons working would be horrendous yet he would have to require all young people to see such... And then the particular sort of sadist who would have to recruited to work in such... All this is tough go neocon rubbish at it's core...
I think the author would take back his idea of posting pictures of the victims for the prisoner to see if he gave it a little more thought. My brother's experience and knowledge in corrections is minimal, but he argues that the people he's talking about would consider the victims' photos to be their own private trophy wall, and a basis for reliving the experience.
OMG...someone who at last speaks sense. This man's suggestions should immediately be made law all over the world. My mother was born in the 1920's and a friend of hers was punished for some crime with the cat o' nine tails. He told her (and anyone that would listen) that was the biggest turning point in his life....he NEVER wanted that again. Surely if criminals knew that if they were caught their punishment would 'fit the crime' they might just think twice before committing heinous acts of violence. And before all you 'do gooders' go on about anyone's 'human rights' any person who harms or kills should forfeit ALL human rights - after all do they actually consider the human rights of their victims?
What would Jesus Christ say about that ???

Just asking.

This post from Blecker reads like a psychological test to see if the readership can be manipulated to approve torture. Seems readers oppose the proposition about 3:1 which is some assurance that we are not barbarians, quite yet.
I'm sick of people thinking that we can't have the death penalty because an innocent might have been convicted. There are extremely clear cut cases such as Dahmer, Gacy, etc... that leaves no doubt whodunit. Quick justice is what's needed in these cases. And let's bring back a version of the gulag in Alaska where we send repeat offenders and the rest of the lifers.
Interesting concept, and a tough issue. What happened to the "hard labor" sentences of the past? One can already hear the other side - a lifetime loss of liberty is enough. While there is no problem with the concept, the response from "prison reformers and rights advocates" is going to be precisely what you would expect - even with this braond of criminal.

There is also the end of life care - how will this issue be addressed when these people are elderly, clearly no harm to anyone?

The idea of life in prison with no chance of parole as an alternative to the death sentence places heavy burden on society. On the other hand, it increases the need for prisons, and prison guards, and prison guard unions paying off politicians, so one party, at least stands to benefit. (there's always that silver lining for Democrats!).

Tough issue - although life without parole by implication means that reform is irrelevant. Those who are sensible always knew that that the reform concept was a fantasy, but those against the death penalty ironically are usually among those who believe that prison should be designed to reform.

Tough issue. Maybe we should do what South Korea and China do, and put these priosners to work in the factories. (Yes, your Korean automobile, clock radio, and household appliance among others was made by prison labor).
Professor Blecker suggests his policy would act as a deterrent. I think he is being disingenuous. He offers no support beyond human nature and common sense. Surely he knows that the prospect of a death sentence has never been a deterrent. It has sometimes led to false confessions in plea bargaining but few murderers commit their crimes in the expectation they will be caught. Those who do act in passion with little regard to consequences. Human nature and common sense would lead one to believe the prospect of life in solitary confinement would do nothing to alter this basic dynamic.
in total agreement.
Fred wrote:

Do you know why you have not heard of the death penalty bing a deterrent?? Itds because it is seldom used. It sure prevents repeat offenders.

Most people love life...not all, but most...and to suggest that the threat of losing your own has little deterent on one's actions is thinking like a liberal....which is not thinking at all.
It sounds as though one of the problems, assuming a more punitive regimen is adopted, is the difficulty of finding persons to staff the prisons. We already know that there is a relatively high level of misconduct among prison workers, and it seems that would be likely to worsen in a more punitive atmosphere. Could robots be used for many of the functions of prison staff? Now we're talking about a REALLY punitive atmosphere, possibly one that could drive prisoners mad. And...what would we accomplish?

Long ago, as a young woman lawyer, I had an opportunity to visit with inmates at a maximum security prison. Not having known what to expect, I was surprised by how "buffed and puffed" they were; it seemed that a significant time was spent on grooming and working out. They displayed a sense of personal pride, one confiding that I shouldn't worry, if anyone tried anything he would protect me. I now realize that many were likely psychopaths. These people have a view of society that we would consider warped, and it's often nearly congenital; I don't think "cures" are very likely.

It seems there must be some balance between "country club" and the bleak atmosphere advocated in the article, but until we can say with certainty what causes humans to commit heinous crimes, a regimen of deliberate inhumanity seems almost as sobering as a death sentence.
I think it's time to come up with a way to make these people productive for society - they could have to work hard at something that BENEFITS society - surely if we all put our heads together we can figure what that could be? Then at least there is some benefit to society in keeping them locked up for ever and feeding them !
The root of such discussions are always clouded and diverse, which is why this is an unanswerable question.

Is prison there to rehabilitate people to be good, or try to ensure they not wish to commit crime again? Does prison exist to punish people or simply, for a time at least, remove them from doing any further harm to society at large? If you educate someone so that they do not want to commit crime again, what do you do when they return to jail through maybe no immediate fault of their own? What do you do when all the training and education in the world does not change their nature? What if they say they are sorry but aren't?

Is the phrase "You may as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb" the one guarantee we have that criminals will always commit the greater crime if they can?

How are you going to define 'innocence' and 'guilt' when there are often different factors pressing in on both the criminal and the justice system? Anyway, who calls the rules and makes the laws? Are they pure of heart always?

Most people who commit crimes think they will get away with it, so punishment is not an immediate part of their thinking. The last thing they expect is the punishment fit the crime, however you define either aspect. The question then is always how much does the criminal fear the system?

Should we weight everything in favour of the innocently accused even if means the blatantly guilty can avoid jail?

Justice is slow and complex (and therefore liable to loopholes and error) and the effect of punishment varied, which is about the only factors we can take into account in this.

But... as much as we argue for one thing or against another, there are criminals who make a career from crime to go with those who would twist the system who benefit. Human nature is what it is and the increasing cost and reach of justice are limiting factors.

So the only thing we know is we want the genuinely guilty to not do again what they did once. How we get to that perfect point is really hard to answer.
What do you hope to achieve by making serial killers physically uncomfortable? And since sociopaths have no conscience, they will not be disturbed by photographs of the person or persons whom they killed. What will be gained? I'd go for spending the money they spend on TV and chips on some more worthy cause.
If you think punishment is lax in the U.S., you should visit a Danish prison, located and fitted out like a medium-class country motel with all kinds of entertainment and activities available. "Lifetime without possibily of parole" does not exist here. Even the worst of offenders will usually be released after some 10 years in the motel, including weekends on the outside and regular visits from girlfriends and others.
The current state of incarceration today are the result of decades of "social/psychological schools of thought that insist there is no such thing as an iredeemable human being. All persons have value to society as a whole. This ignorance of the true nature of evil has led to places like Terminal Island, where I would walk along the inside of the fence waiving to the yachters leaving the harbor for a day of sailing before I would go play a few games of tennis.
Professor Blecker,
Wonderful article.Get ready for the liberal onslaught.The wires are already buzzing as they dial up to take your job and destroy you.
The loss of liberty is their punishment. All the rest this author urges is soul-destroying torture,unbecoming of a civilized society.
Well, Bob, why don't you Google Josepha Menendez in Hell. Then do a little chaser by searching St. Don Bosco's dreams. They are both Catholic saints who had far worse experiences than I. Oh, but you have a hard time accepting the testimony from the world's oldest Institution, right? I mean, what could possibly be authentic from the most despised and simultaneously indestructible Institution the world has ever known? There's nothing at all unusual, is there, about an organization which survived during the 20th century alone Hitler's plots, Stalin's infiltrations and the homosexual 5th column's scandals designed to discredit and bankrupt Her?
I'm appalled at serious consideration of a deliberate regimen of cruelty administered to anyone, even confessed perpetrators of horrible crimes, and not just because mistaken identity leads to torturing innocent people.

Don't we call our prisons penitentiaries because of the hope that even the hardest heart can repent, and be honestly remorseful? History is filled with people who have genuinely repented of evil crimes, and such repentance is an inspiration to all who would hope to do better.

And don't forget what encouraging thoughts of inflicting pain, suffering, and despair on others does to us as a society, or the utterly corrosive effects that nursing memories of our own individual pain has upon our souls. As individuals, and as a society, we can only recover from the suffering inflicted upon us by others, including criminals, by refusing to live in that space, by recognizing the pain and refusing to allow it to dominate us. This prescription for more punitive justice hardens our hearts, freezing our trauma within us. It is a prescription for institutionalizing anger and resentment, creating hate, as if our society were not coarse enough as it is.

I am certainly not calling for loosing criminals on society. We have every right to protect ourselves, but vengeance begets only more vengeance, until hate will come from every pore. Whether an individual or a society, one cannot allow bitterness to dominate us, lest we be consumed by it.

As is so clear in the Bible, vengeance is not ours to seek. If we live by it, we will be destroyed by it.

Ezekial 25:15
15: Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with a despiteful heart, to destroy it for the old hatred;
16: Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethims, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast.
17: And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.

Deuteronomy 32:35
To me (God) belongeth vengeance.
I don't think Peter1589 took his medication today.
"But inside prison, it turns out, it’s nobody’s job to punish."

Is not the whole system based on the notion of correction/rehabilitation?

Perfectly applied, this system has merit, but the training and supervision would be extremely expensive, seems to me.
Patrick MacKinnon:

A child killer would merit a more tedious incarceration? Well, since nominal doctors, who took a sworn vow to do no harm, are responsible for well over 54 million abortions since Roe v. Wade, not to mention the countless billions of conceptions destroyed in the womb by the Pill which also constitute murder of the unborn, why do not the scalpels and other such tools of the mass murderers we tolerate in our "society" constitute murder weapons and their wielders criminal status?

Because we worldlings have gone astray and satan is a master tactician and strategist, who knows our intellectual pride and arrogance VERY well, and plays us like Paganini was a master of the violin. Hypocrisy is our trade, and Hell our destination. Unless we do penance. But who believes that "nonsense" any more, eh?
Robert Blecker is right: In the absence of capital punishment, PPS should supplant the currently prevalent recreational lifestyle of "lifers." Yet I'm afraid that the "noble and humane" left will take a dim view of this sort of retributive punishment. They'll consider it "cruel and unusual" -- even more so than the death penalty itself.
Patrick MacKinnon January 07, 2013 at 1:57 AM
I see some problems here. We all like retributive justice but exact proportionality would pose problems. One would I presume start with the worst possible and miserable life imposed upon the worst possible criminal offenders. For example a serial killer's punishment would have to be say
20 times worse than a one time killer's. And what about the age of the victims? Surely a child killer would merit a more tedious incarceration than
the killer of say an octogenarian. The possible range and severity of the punishments would boggle the mind with many ensuing attorney appeals.
Or, as an alternative, potential PPS prisoners could all just be dumped on an island in the Aleutians and told: "Good luck, play nice.".
Well Professor, sounds good to me.
Robert Blecker is quite correct. It remains a mystery to many why those criminals who have committed the worst of the worst offences, often involving children, would, while incarcerated, receive benefits such as being able to watch colour TV and purchase candy from prison shops.
A correctional system where sociopathic criminals who have committed heinous crimes are able to have those benefits has simply lost the plot. Being incarcerated for murder, rape, paedophilia and the like should mean that those offenders have lost any right to any benefits while incarcerated and should spend the rest of their lives in a permanent punitive segregational system as described by Prof Blecker. Giving those offenders benefits such as the ability to play softball or ping-pong ping-pong is completely counter productive and defeats the main purpose of the incarceration of those who will never again be released i.e. to punish them for their offences against society.
Since the death penalty has been a matter of universal, Federal law for the unborn since Roe v. Wade, to the tune of well over 54 million innocent souls, and since I have had a personal experience with the terrors of Hell (a reptilian, furiously murderous hissing voice, simultaneously thermonuclear hot and liquid nitrogen cold, stating "I WILL KILL YOU ALL!" While praying the Rosary one night), I can assure you, let them have their fun. Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love Him, but this ear has heard what God has ready for those who hate Him.
This sorry post gives life to Arendt's "The Banality of Evil".
The question I would ask, is what do you want them to come out like at the end? Then work backwards.
Prison is correction not retribution, criminals 1. don't work usually 2. too often are illiterate 3. are too often emotionally sterile. It would seem prison should aim to correct these things 1. compulsory work to pay for their incarceration 2. compulsory education 3. compulory counselling.
Work should be a 49 hours/week, 6 shifts of 7 hours, split over 24/7. Work should be work done curently overseas, assembly, phone work and prison services. Education should be something taken seriously, non participation results in 24 hour lock ins, same for therapy.
The aim is to show individuals if they commit crime they will pay with work, so better to work outside. Skills to actually get a job, not re-offend and therapy to understand their crimes.
Then work on three strikes and you are out forced labour in a prison to 70 years old. The more heinous criminals, well it is one strike and you are out.
This is a velvet glove and it should be, but the hand within should be of iron. Prison riots should be dealt with by the army, tear gas, rubber bullets and rock salt, zero tolerance, but play the new game and work, study and undergo therapy and life inside will be as normal as it could be on the outside.
Dredger wrote, "Remove the blocks to swift justice and watch the murder rate drop..

I've never heard of any deterrent to probably any type of crime short of incarceration itself and people and their neighbors looking after and defending themselves. There's been no evidence at all that the death penalty reduced the incidence of murder. Have stiffer and stiffer penalties reduced drunk driving?

If someone has some examples of deterrence through increased penalties, I'd love to hear them.
Never said better: "Deliberate cruelty is unforgivable" ('A Streetcar Named Desire').
Doris Wise Montrose January 06, 2013 at 11:18 PM
Correct and appropriate. Might even reduce these kinds of crime. So it will never happen. Better to take away the ability for innocents to defend themselves in the first place making it even easier for criminals to commit crimes.
Mr. Blecker, I wonder if you call yourself a Christian. If so, please look again at the teachings of Jesus.

Also, isn't being locked up in prison a considerable punishment in itself? I don't know of anyone who's clamoring to take a vacation in jail.
I simply disagree completely with your view. You speak of the punishment fitting the crime and then try to figure out how to make the perpetrator somehow experience a level of "discomfort" as a sort of pay back....sort of equal to what there victims experienced. This is sheer lunacy. What a complete waste. A whole new psychological field would have to be developed to measure and dispense just the right amount of "discomfort".

You have simply chucked the idea of execution for some reason. why? Fear of executing the wrong person?? Yes it has happened in the past and no doubt will happen again. However that is no reason to simply deny that it is the perfect answer for anyone convicted of 1st degree murder. How can anything less that execution ever come close to justice being served for the wanton taking of human life?

We have heard how the death penalty is outdated...why is that? Are we more civilized than our forbearers....really????

We have heard that the death penalty does not serve as a deterent? How do we know that? Knowing that the worst you can get is LWOP certainly is not going to serve as any stronger deterent.

No...I think you are mistaken. Remove the blocks to swift justice and watch the murder rate drop. Remove any reference to rehabilitation, take away all the perks and those that DO serve time will think 4 or 5 times before screwing up again.

The comment on the attitude of the prison personel not caring that the crimminal stays "unconfortable" for his stay is something that needs to be changed. Making the crimminal "uncomfortalbe" should BE the very puropse of incarceration...not just allow the passing of time to be the sole form of punishment.
The problem would remain that the falsely convicted would be undeservedly punished. I just watched a TV show last night about a guy in Texas that spent 18 years in prison for a brutal slaying of 6 people- 4 of them children. Charges were finally dropped.

Even the prosecutor assigned to retry the case was convinced of his innocence. I can't imagine having him spending 18 years on PPS for something he didn't do.

I do agree there should be restrictions on those serving life for heinous crimes. For instance, one element of California's recent ballot initiative to ban the death penalty was that those prisoners would also be entitled to jobs. I DON'T THINK SO!

As an aside, I generally oppose the death penalty and I know it wouldn't wash with either voters or legislators, but I've always thought we should give those sentenced to LWOP the option of death should they chose. That way everybody ends up happy.
That all sounds far too sensible, moral, just and practical to be ever implemented.

And I think it would be a far more effective deterrent that capital punishment.
Pointless. Such a prison regime would be deliberately cruel and clearly unusual. It would never pass constitutional muster.

Better to feed those convicted of terrible crimes as much junk food as they can earn. Make it easy for them to earn it. Give them exercise options that exercise little. You can go on and on about their right to a normal diet such as persons outside prison enjoy.

If they escape, they won't run far.