A public flogging in Delaware in the early 1900s. Ullstein Bild, The Granger Collection.
For the Chronicle of Higher Education, Peter Moskos justifies the title of his new book, and explains why In Defense of Flogging is really about our bloated failed prison system:
The opening gambit of the book is surprisingly simple: If you were sentenced to five years in prison but had the option of receiving lashes instead, what would you choose? You would probably pick flogging. Wouldn’t we all?
My defense of flogging […] is meant to be provocative, but only because something extreme is needed to shatter the status quo. We are in denial about the brutality of the uniquely American invention of mass incarceration. In 1970, before the war on drugs and a plethora of get-tough laws increased sentence lengths and the number of nonviolent offenders in prison, 338,000 Americans were incarcerated. There was even hope that prisons would simply fade into the dustbin of history. That didn’t happen.
Some time in the past few decades we’ve lost the concept of justice in a free society. Historically, even though great efforts were made to keep “outsiders” and the “undeserving” poor off public welfare rolls, society’s undesirables—the destitute, the disabled, the insane, and of course criminals—were still considered part of the community. The proverbial village idiot may have been mocked, beat up, and abused, but there was no doubt he was the village’s idiot. Some combination of religious charity, public duty, and family obligation provided (certainly not always adequately) for society’s least wanted. Exile was a punishment of last resort, and a severe one at that. To be banished from the community was in some ways the ultimate punishment. And prisons, whether or not this was our intention, brought back banishment and exile, effectively creating a disposable class of people to be locked away and discarded. True evil happens in secret, when the masses of “decent” folks can’t or don’t want to see it happen.
Particularly with the last paragraph, I couldn’t agree more.