On punishment

I have on different occasions shared opinions and quotes on this topic. It is known by regular readers that I am I lean towards abolition of prisons. I also believe with JJR that we should abolish capital punishment in the few places where it is still in the statutes. This doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with what to do with violent offenders. I listen to podcasts on crime and some of the offenses leave me wanting to throw up. The cruelty. The pain caused to families. The violence to the victims. It is all too sick. And the question is, what must society do to protect itself from such?

All that is not the subject of this post.

In this post, I want to ask a question. Different countries have term limits for different crimes ranging from a few weeks to several lifetimes or even capital punishment. The question is, was there a rational basis for say determining that for the crime of sexual assault, the minimum time for rape is 10 years (according to the Kenyan law)? I think the mandatory sentence was ruled unconstitutional. What is to be achieved in the ten years? Could the society achieve the same goal with a shorter sentence? Say 2 years?

What are your thoughts on this matter? Are there rational ways of determining what length of a sentence is required for say a murder? Keep in mind society doesn’t always punish murders. For example, during war, the guy whose side wins i.e kills the most, gets more stars on his shoulder and a presidential commendation for valour and other military honours. It is the killing by individuals not sanctioned by the state that we abhor completely.

Maybe I have this all wrong.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

35 thoughts on “On punishment

  1. johnfaupel says:

    ‘Punishment’ assumes ‘freedom of choice’ but if none of us have freedom of choice – all forms of punishment are misguided. We generally think we know what we do, but rarely know what makes us do what we do, because if we try to find out, it leads to an infinite regress, in search of ‘causation’. What therefore, should replace punishment? Help, guidance, care, compassion, counselling &c., even administering an overdose of cocaine in extreme cases of serious damage to people, society & property &c., would be more humanitarian than ‘punishment’.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ladysighs says:

    Perhaps you should have started this post:
    I have on MANY occasions shared opinions and quotes on this topic. 😉

    You’ll probably get FEW answers just like before, but keep asking. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jim- says:

    When it comes to sexual assailants there seems to be little cure. A ten year sentence essentially says we don’t have to worry about them hurting us for ten years, vs two.
    I feel like I have the right to be free of such nuisance but apparently we don’t.
    There is likely no answer at the moment, like with our homeless population. Humanitarian solutions are lopsided in favor of the offenders.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. rautakyy says:

    In Finland the maximum prison sentence is something like 25 years. Hardly anybody serves that long. However, for the criminally insane, there is the possibility, that they are not sentensed at all. Instead, they may be deemed mentally incapacitated. In wich case they have a high propability to live the rest of their lives in medically caused numbness within a mental institute. There are periodical evaluations, but litle chance of recovery, if the “patient” is constantly drugged. It is not a form of punishment, rather as humane storage for people beyond redemption & too dangerous to others to be let loose, that we have come up with so far. The prison system exists more for rehabilitating purposes, than as a punishment. Both the insane asylum and the rehabilitation prison work as a deterrent for would be criminals, just as much as a capital punishment, or a punitive prison would. Since a sane person fears loosing their freedom about as much as death and the “underworld genius” – that is the typical criminal is in such a positive denialist mindset, that they simply do not think of the possibility of getting caught (not even, if they already have, sometimes several times). Finland is not known for high rate of crime, rather the opposite. Among the reasons for that are fairly egalitarian society, high social mobility, but also a low level of crime renewal rate. Wich means, the rehabilitation processes do make a difference. There is ambly enough punishment for the lawbrakers in having to be locked up with other selfish people like themselves and no punishment harsh enough for a crime like rape anyway, so I guess it is not a bad choise to try to make the purpetrator WHY what they did was wrong, so they would be sorry about it, but more importantly would never do it again.

    Liked by 3 people

    • makagutu says:

      This seems to me the way society should progress. In most places, the prison system cannot rehabilitate. The people in charge of prisoners are themselves in need of rehabilitation.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I think there have been studies (visit Amnesty International for related info) that illustrate that capital punishment does not work as a deterrent.

      This can be illustrated in several ways.

      Regarding murder, in many cases a crime of passion, killing done in the heat of the moment, the killer is not thinking rationally but rather is blinded by anger, jealousy and other emotions. Capital punishment, then possibility of being executed, is not part of that thought process.

      The same applies in countries that punish drug dealers with death. If that approach was effective, there would be an absence of illegal drug use and related arrests, but the continued (and in some cases increasing) illegal drug use and arrests attest to the minimal impact that capital punishment has as a deterrent, if it has any impact at all.


      • makagutu says:

        Are there studies looking at drug prevalence in countries with severe drug laws against those that have laced drug laws? How do the two compare.
        The death punishment doesn’t improve society. The dead man is dead and learns nothing from being hanged. Or even if he learns, it is pointless because there is no opportunity to demonstrate the learning. Society is not improved either. It is only spared the inconvenience of keeping alive a person the justice system has found unfit for society.

        Liked by 1 person

      • rautakyy says:

        Indeed. Countries with the capital punishment have, if anything, a higher rate of violent crime, than countries that have abolished it.

        The criminal typically does not think much of the potential consequences in case they are caught, any more than the stock broker thinks of the potential consequences of a high risk investment failing, or the gambler thinks of their luck being bad. They all think of it enough to brush aside the thought, but if the violent criminal thinks of the capital punishment, what they are likely to think is, that it makes their position into a nothing-to-lose scenario, where they find justification from being as it were “persecuted” and at war with the society – so to speak. If your enemy does not take prisoners, or is in habit of executing them, it tends to give motivation to push further and certainly does not encourage to surrender, rather to fight to the bitter end, no matter how desperate your situation is.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. renudepride says:

    I have no complete understanding of the punishment/prison complexity. It varies from country to country as well as by societies. Rehabilitation has long been the lofty goal for imprisonment – especially in the USA – but it has since evolved into a place to rid society of the less than desirable segments of the population (ethnic and racial). The fact that the prison population is growing presents an entirely new issue for society to wrestle with. Naked hugs, my Kenyan brother! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      I could be wrong, but I think in your good country, prison is a business. You have private prisons – if I am not wrong- and I am not sure these would be appropriate avenues for rehabilitation. Maybe it is time society asked itself whether it should be creating more prisons or changing itself.

      Liked by 1 person

      • renudepride says:

        The society AND the political situations needs drastic change! No, (sorry) RADICAL change! The prison system here isn’t even concerned about rehabilitation but rather incarceration – and only for a “select” group of society! Thanks and yes, it does need to reinvent itself!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Nan says:

    The entire bible revolves around reward and punishment — and believers love to focus on the latter. Therefore, since religion more or less determines the “rules” of most societies, punishment is frequently the choice du jour.

    As for the idea of rehabilitation, I think it depends on the personality of the offender. If the person is truly repentant (which is often difficult to detect), then it would be a worthy option. On the other hand, there are individuals who are so evil and depraved that removing them entirely from society is the only safe option.

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      You are right about religious influences on the statutes.
      I think society fails the sick when it gives up on their rehabilitation. It is like a doctor giving up on a patient with bad teeth.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Neil Rickert says:

    This is always a difficult issue.

    We do need to protect society from serious offenders.

    I’m in favor of rehab where that works. Unfortunately, society is more willing to spend money on punishment than on rehab. And for some offenders, rehab does not seem to work.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Unfortunately, there will always be those who display psychopathic tendencies, who are unrepentant and incurable, leaving societies with the only options of permanent incarceration or capital punishment. For most other offenders the eighteen-century idea applies that wrongdoing results from ignorance (failure of the education system) or extreme poverty (injustice).


  9. shelldigger says:

    Some people are so messed up, as in no remorse whatsoever for horrific acts they have committed. These people need to be removed from society.

    Some people are remorseful over the wrongdoings they have committed. But for whatever reason i.e. mental ilness/ addiction, they wind up right back in the system.

    One of these can be rehabilitated. But even so a successful rehab rate I’m sure is way less than 100%.

    So a certain number of these folks should also be kept from society once rehabilitation has been proven unsuccessful.

    Also the laws need to be overhauled. We have a lot of people in prison for selling pot as a prime example.

    The whole system needs work. But people are so diversified I’m not sure there would ever exist a system that could be seriously considered as a truly fair system for all.

    Moral of the story is stay the hell out of trouble and you won’t have to worry about it.


  10. I don’t think there is a wrong answer. Inspiration to the ethical approach might be found in Norway, where the maximum imprisonment is capped at 21 years.

    Is the 10-year sentence for rape in Kenya fair? That would depend; is the rapist a repeat offender? Is there an effective way to rehabilitate a convicted rapist?

    I’m with you regarding opposition to capital punishment. It doesn’t seem like punishment to me, more like ending whatever sense of guilt the murderer might have way too early. Letting the killer off the hook. It would seem that being put in prison for 21 years would allow the murderer plenty of time to reflect on their misdeeds, and maybe return to society as a better person.

    If a mental illness is part of the equation, that would justify life in an institution, at least until the illness is healed.

    I live three kilometres down the road from a prison where convicts are executed just about every Friday morning at 6 AM. Some aren’t even convicted murderers, but are convicted of drug-related crimes. There must be a more moral way to punish such people.

    And we cannot forget those innocent people wrongly executed. That is a mistake that can never be corrected, and it happens too often. Once is too often.


    • makagutu says:

      Hello Thomas and thank you for your well considered response.
      You ask very difficult questions and I can’t claim to have any answers. But we agree on one thing. The execution of one innocent person is one person too many.

      Liked by 1 person

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