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Crime and Punishment [Jul. 10th, 2008|06:03 pm]
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This is not a literary entry.

In the realm of politics, I have an open mind on anything I don't already have a firm, fact-based or well-reasoned opinion on. That leaves me without many strong opinions sometimes, though, because I'm someone who likes to take things on a case-by-case, contextual basis rather than in broad sweeping categories. As I go through life, however, I accept with a broad smile that I will learn things along the way that help me shape my opinions.

As such, I think I can say that I still have a rather undecided stance on whether to be categorically against the death penalty. Now, though, I can add a specific circumstance to the set of situations in which I would not support the death penalty, but the reasoning comes courtesy of a dear friend (I'm leaving her name out intentionally to focus on her words, though they are reposted here with her consent), who had the following to say:

The Supreme Court has rejected the death penalty in child rape cases, reports the Washington Post.

I am a woman who has been raped. More than once.

I am also a woman who knows far too many people who have been abused and raped, adults and children alike.

And yet, I am happy for this ruling. And not just because I'm against the death penalty. I am. I am voraciously against the death penalty. It is unevenly applied. It is irrevocable. It is fallible. People who are innocent of the crimes they have been accused of still end up with the death penalty. That is abhorrent to me.

So, yeah, that plays in to me being glad of the ruling today, but doesn't explain it fully.

It sure isn't because I think rape is a light crime. It sure isn't because I think that the kids who are raped -- kids. raped. :shudder -- don't suffer. I've sat in the waiting room at a rape crisis center. I've seen the hollow looks. Hell, I've sat next to my niece, and heard her whisper that her daddy's been gone a long time... while I knew he sat in a jail cell, accused of molesting her. I do not look at the victims and think "it's bad, but not that bad."

Here's a bit of the "why" of me being glad that child rapists can't get the death penalty: If the punishment for the crime of rape is the same as for the crime of murder, there's no point in leaving alive a victim who can ID you. None. I'd rather have a living rape survivor than a corpse.

I'd rather have a living rape survivor than a corpse.

If even one child is left alive because the rapist knows that, if caught, there won't be a death sentence, then HALLELUJAH.

Or, as hallelujah as one can get when talking about rape, murder, abuse, misery.

So...that's my take.

[User Picture]From: nub2ski
2008-07-11 02:58 am (UTC)


Wow. I'm left almost speechless but am impressed at the blunt statement of the value of life.

It leaves me thinking, though, "I'd rather have a criminal living in jail than a corpse."
[User Picture]From: flagster
2008-07-11 06:30 pm (UTC)


There you hit on the exact point that makes this discussion interesting.

You see, what I think is actually noteworthy about her position is that it *isn't* so much about the value of life, per se. Rather, it's a different construction of the argument against the death penalty that in this particular case does *not* rely so much on strictly philosophical/moral positions about the value of life. It puts it into relative terms, instead, that recasts it into a pragmatic stance which it's almost impossible to counter.

But one factor I teeter on in considering the death penalty: ending someone's life can potentially amount to giving them the easy way out - and wanting to see them in jail instead, suffering the consequences of their crimes, can be seen as even more vindictively-minded (not to say cruel). In simpler terms, I think overtones of retribution underly both stances.

Which brings me back to the philosophical question (listen to me, just ready to pounce on the big questions). Religion (particularly Christianity) actually frowns upon human-meted judgment, which almost seems to preclude the idea of consequent punishment (if you take it literally). The bottom line in that line of thinking though is that there's no easy way to neatly expel from society a member that does not conform to its norms if any punishment can be considered the consequence of a judgment!
[User Picture]From: tims300
2008-07-11 04:31 pm (UTC)


i agree with her end result, but i don't agree with the thought process, because it devalues the life of the criminal - i believe all human life has value regardless of the acts committed by said human.

from that follows my opinion that there is no crime that can be committed that is worthy of capital punishment.
[User Picture]From: flagster
2008-07-11 06:34 pm (UTC)


That's part of my point, here - see my response to Brian, above, for more (and again, I'm not very good at putting intuitive points into words):

effectively, it leaves aside the question of the value of human life in favor of a very pragmatic approach that is more solid, in a debate about the death penalty for one thing or another, than the moralistic question (on which many people disagree). That of course takes for granted a context in which the death penalty is already an option.
From: ext_105604
2008-07-14 11:33 pm (UTC)

Not quite


As a rape victim myself, I can start to see her reasoning. The one bit that doesn't hold up (and I'm a huge anti-death penalty person here) is that it implies some sort of forethought/planning regarding the consequences on the part of the perpetrator. No criminal thinks they'll be caught. If they did, they wouldn't do it. The risks are already too high. If they can even manage to think that far ahead, they'll frankly crave the death penalty. Prison, not a nice place under the best circumstances, is particularly not nice for child rapists. But again, they're not thinking about the consequences. They're too busy committing the crime, convinced they'll get away with it.

For all the deterrence theory in criminology, the studies back up that deterrence can prevent crime. But mostly through social conditioning in the first place, not through fearing heavier sanctions. As none other than the Rev. Timothy Lovejoy once stated, "If the government approves it, it loses the stigma of shame." If it is accepted by the public as worthy of punishment, it is bad. You shouldn't do it. You could have consequences. After that, few people actually know or care what those consequences are. That's the problem with the deterrence theory of punishment.

I'm glad they're not endorsing the death penalty, but the logic on this argument doesn't stand up on the facts of how these situations happen. If it did, then Massachusetts (which does not have the death penalty) would have lower death rates in this situation, and I think you'll find that it doesn't.
[User Picture]From: flagster
2008-07-15 02:58 pm (UTC)

Re: Not quite


I take your point; on the subject of statistics, though, I think that because of socio/economic variations any comparison between states is probably not as useful as a single-state, before/after or longitudinal study would be (ie looking at stats in a state that 'recently' abolished the penalty, but long enough prior to have the necessary elapsed time for social conditioning to catch up).
From: ext_105604
2008-07-15 03:51 pm (UTC)

Re: Not quite


Granted, it is a single case rather than a comprehensive set of statistics, but Massachusetts has had its own set of child rapists in the news in the last decade. The most infamous one of recent times was probably the Jeffrey Curley murder. There was no death penalty, and hasn't been in MA for a number of years prior to that crime. But the consequences didn't stop them, because as noted above similar to most other crimes they don't consider the consequences. Even if they did "life in jail" to "execution" isn't on most people's radar at that point, and they're certainly beyond caring.

Almost any country you'd care to find, whether death penalty or not in place (and most first world countries do not have it in place), the key to whether or not the child will be found alive in a kidnapping is whether or not they can be found within 24 hours. The penalties and severity don't seem to vary this at all.

Of course, most child rapes don't fall into the stranger kidnap category. The vast majority occur by someone the child knows, in secret and (most sadly) repeatedly through molestation. Again, the consequences don't come into it, at least not the judicial consequences. There is no "need" to kill the child as a) the child is hushed up by psychological pressure (let's keep it a secret/no one will believe you/I will harm your mother or father, etc etc) and/or lack of understanding that what has happened to them is wrong and b) if the child can be kept quiet, the crime can be repeated, which is of course the ultimate desire. Again, nothing to do with judicial consequences.

Again, I agree with the ultimate conclusions of the verdict - that there is no death penalty. But relying on this sort of logic and extending it to other circumstances as an argument won't work as it falls down on the logic and facts, and as such it is an argument best left alone.