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Prisons Are an Abomination (nd.edu)
55 points by pan_cogito 21 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 96 comments



Article says to abolish prisons and instead focus on healing. But as long as there are criminal opportunities, some percentage of baseline humans will want to exploit them, whether due to rational economic decision-making or quirks of their neurological or psychological makeup. Either way, once there are people with criminal intent, it becomes necessary to limit their possible actions to both limit harm to the community and to facilitate healing. So while we may get away from literal barred cells as other solutions become available, the idea of imprisonment is not going anywhere.


The article adddress your point as well:

> There may be good reasons to tolerate abominations, such as the abominable but justifiable deformation of the human person that occurs when a surgeon amputates a limb to save a patient from a disease. Prisons may be abominable, but they are necessary for community safety (often serial killers and child molesters are invoked here)—we must allow one abomination to prevent other abominations.


> the idea of imprisonment is not going anywhere

I don't have any ideas off the top of my head, but I think it's definitely worth exploring alternative deterrents and punishments to see if there's anything equally effective and more humane.


There's an excellent exploration of near-future and far-future alternatives to our current lock-em-up approach in Isaac Arthur's essay on Space Prison Colonies https://youtu.be/s_B_CJ3yieM


> But as long as there are criminal opportunities, some percentage of baseline humans will want to exploit them, whether due to rational economic decision-making or quirks of their neurological or psychological makeup.

Can you cite a source on this?


Not to be rude, but is that not self-evident?

Is the reasonable counterargument that we can achieve 0% of people with neurological/psychological abnormalities, or that there will never exist a rational, profit-making opportunity to break the law?


obviously they can't, but it seems to be true throughput the recorded history of civilization. the burden of proof is probably on those who want to refute this claim.


> the burden of proof is probably on those who want to refute this claim.

I agree that the claim is fairly self-evident, but the burden of proof should be on the person making the claim.

It's not my job to do your research!


> but the burden of proof should be on the person making the claim.

I think the burden of proof should be on whomever is making the less collectively accepted claim. If I claim the earth is round and you are a flat earther, I don't have to prove anything to you despite your demands. However, if people everywhere generally accept that the earth is flat, then indeed the burden of proof is on me to prove that the earth is actually round.

In GP's example, the statement "as long as there are criminal opportunities, some percentage of baseline humans will want to exploit them" is a collectively accepted claim. Therefore the burden of proof is on anyone claiming something to the contrary.


> I think the burden of proof should be on whomever is making the less collectively accepted claim.

Good point


There's a great deal of difference between a generally verifiable claim, supported by thousands of years of human history, and a request for specific citations of scientifically-validated studies.

In this case, it is your job to do research. This isn't a research journal, it's a discussion board. If you want to deep dive into a topic brought up on the board, it's your responsibility to follow up, not the OP's.


Psychopats and sociopaths will. Per observation, plenty of non-psychopaths and non-sociopaths are pretty good at rationalizing harmful behavior. Also, there is no period in history where people who not tried to break the law.


Psychopathy and sociopathy aren't cut and dry clinical diagnosis. The idea that there are these inherently evil people roaming around out there is incredibly rare and is inflated by popular media.

What people typically refer to is Antisocial Personality Disorder, which varies wildly. Many people with APD aren't criminals, or even "bad" people.

It's rare to the point that I suspect that you could house the number of violent criminals with untreatable Antisocial Personality Disorder in a single prison.


It's rare to the point that I suspect that you could house the number of violent criminals with untreatable Antisocial Personality Disorder in a single prison.

California has at least 4 state mental institutions devoted solely to housing violent mentally disordered offenders.


>untreatable Antisocial Personality Disorder

I'm talking specifically about people you'd qualify as psychopaths/sociopaths as they're colloquially depicted. The "evil" emotionless/unreachable criminal is incredibly rare.

>California has at least 4 state mental institutions devoted solely to housing violent mentally disordered offenders.

This is unrelated, but keep in mind that often these institutions are treating a symptom and ignoring the disease. California probably wouldn't need 4 state institutions if they had reasonable access to mental health and stable housing.

They often have zero support system when they're released. They're temporarily put into group homes or halfway houses where they're surrounded by other people with mental disorders and various related issues like substance abuse (not to mention that abuse in general is rampant in this type of housing, including by staff). Some people know that this type of housing is problematic, and opt for homelessness instead.

They've got no permanent homes, finding work is incredibly difficult, and they're grouped together with other people with wide-ranging mental disorders and other problematic histories.

It's hard to imagine that anyone is _ever_ able to escape these cycles of institutionalization.


APD and psychopathy are actual diagnoses...

Moreover, people with antisocial personality disorder aren't emotionless. They're non-empathetic, meaning they have no regard for the emotions of others. Most people with APD are fully capable of feeling and expressing their own emotions.

If you want to re-define these terms to mean something other than what they actually mean, you could say that the evil emotionless, unreachable criminal is incredibly rare. That's because evil people, emotionless people, and unreachable people are all incredibly rare, so the combination of all 3 is even rarer.


I'm talking about how the terms sociopath and psychopath are used colloquially, which as you pointed out is incorrect. The original comment I'm responding to is "Psychopats and sociopaths will [always commit crimes]."

Criminals with APD and Psychopathy as depicted in popular media are incredibly rare — that's the entirety of what I'm trying to express. The American obsession with prisons has next to nothing to do with the prevalence of people who fit the layman's understanding of "sociopaths" and "psychopaths." If it were directly related very few prisons would need to exist at all.


I hope that this article doesn't distract us from the elephant in the room - that the US incarcerates a greater proportion of its population than any other country, with no apparent benefit in terms of crime prevention. Most of that disparity has been created since the Reagan administration's "war on drugs".

The case for abolishing prison entirely is distinctly tenuous, but there's a fairly obvious case that the US criminal justice system is needlessly costly, cruel and ineffective. Most of the arguments in defence of the status quo are tacitly racist, e.g. "European countries don't need to imprison as many people because their population isn't as diverse".

Prisons may be a necessary last resort to protect the public from violent criminals, but the US criminal justice system is riddled with genuine abominations - Three Strikes laws, plea bargains, private prison contracts with minimum occupancy quotas, the high proportion of seriously mentally ill inmates etc.


> the US incarcerates a greater proportion of its population than any other country

A large part of this is ridiculously long sentences. You called out California's three strikes law in you comment. One example of this I heard on the excellent Ear Hustle podcast was somebody who was sentenced to 50 years to life for stealing $40 (unarmed) after having two prior convictions. I don't see how this is good for anybody.


I personally believe that the American criminal system is more influenced by the Islamic Sharia system when it comes to punishment.

Under the Islamic Sharia system, the laws are very harsh - you steal and your hand is cut off, you rape someone and you are stoned to death, you commit adultery and you are publicly lashed and so on.

But the Sharia also allows the victim (or their relatives) to forgive the perpetrator (with or without some compensation, usually money) in the spirit of Islam.

The American criminal legal system tries to model something similar - and that is why the punishments for most crimes are absurd too; for e.g. US courts sometimes award absurd punishments of 200 years of jail time. Like the Sharia system, once punishments is awarded and carried out the system ensures you end up broken (in spirit, if not physically).

Where as in a Sharia system the victim decides on being compassionate or a "fair" compensation in lieu of a lesser punishment, in the US system this power is held with the government. And this is used as a bargaining chip to make "deals" with the accused (note that I don't say the guilty, as sometimes even the innocent make such deals afraid of the harsher punishment if they were to lose the trial).

(From what I have read, some of the founding fathers of the US were admirers of the Islamic empire and their political and legal system influenced by Islam).


Could it be that the "3 convictions and you are out" comes from trying to balance the fact that the system believes if someone is caught 3 times, they are likely to have done other times without being caught and that they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future (prison is not acting as a deterrent). Coupling that with the material and psychological impact on the victims, the system believes that society is better off having that person imprisoned for "close to life"?

If that is the case, society then needs to start looking at other incentives (carrot & stick) that can limit the risk of re-incidence, such as better reintegration mechanisms.


Several other states have Three Strikes or "habitual felon" laws, so the problem of life sentences for minor offences isn't confined to California.


the high proportion of seriously mentally ill inmates etc.

While I generally agree with the rest of the items in your list, prison is the second best place for mentally ill offenders, with a dedicated psychiatric hospital being the best option if available. The problem is that they're isn't space at psychiatric hospitals--they're always at capacity.

Most of that disparity has been created since the Reagan administration's "war on drugs".

Drugs aren't harmless, and we shouldn't pretend like they are. Nor should we operate under the fantasy that treatment and rehabilitation are enough. Many of the mentally ill in prison are mentally ill because the drugs they abused ate holes in their brains, which is something that no amount of treatment will fix. When I was a public defender, the % was about 75% of MDOs were drug-induced mental illnesses, with the remainder being inherent (i.e., genetic) or trauma-induced mental illness.


> Drugs aren't harmless, and we shouldn't pretend like they are

Agreed, but IMO the "war on drugs" has caused far more damage than drug abuse. While there are recreational drug users they tend not to be drug abusers. Rather drug abuse usually tends to be caused by erroneous self-medication. We could help these people.

The war on drugs tears our society in half by forcing people who might otherwise use drugs in a recreational manner into a counter-culture where they feel alienated. This alienation leads to mental health disorders which are treated through self-medication which causes even more problems and a vicious cycle begins.


Why was the word "biblical" removed from the title? It definitely seems relevant to know that this is a religious argument.


HN leans atheist in its subject matter, to put it mildly. Bordering on censoro.


Probably something like the BBC, certain words are removed from the lexicon of main stream media.


To clarify, the actual article does have "biblical" in the title, it was just removed from the HN submission.


After long introspeccion on the topic of prisons I finally distilled why I found them terrible. Prisons as we know them are monuments to the hatred of freedom.

If a society valued freedom as highly as possible, sending someone to prison would be such a spectacular condemnation that great accomodations would be offered. Instead, prisons serve as a demeaning punishment and eternal condemnation.

There is great moral value in taking the liberty stance: it would mean that prison would not be a great punishment for the great number of innocent and wrongfully incarcerated. And It would also be a lot easier to prosecute all kinds of crimes, as prison would not be as terrible as it is (but, if freedom valued, still a punishment)


But then you lose the value of deterrence. I'm not bashing Norway, but if that's what our prisons were like, I think a lot of people wouldn't find them a deterrent at all, and in fact for a lot of people, they would represent an improvement in their lives.

Prison should not be cruel (e.g., solitary confinement for more than a short period of time in unacceptable), but it should still be unpleasant if it is to serve as a deterrent to committing crime, and that is definitely one of the biggest reasons we have prisons... to incentivize people to stay out of them.


Unfortunately, I think this is true.

If in a game I can steal 10 points and at most get a 1 point penalty for getting caught, I'm much more likely to give it a shot than if I get a 10 or 20 point penalty for getting caught. Plus, if everyone else in the game is cheating and getting away with it, I'm much more likely to try it too.

The problem is if you make the penalties so severe and the application of the rules unequal, then you end up with chopping people's hands off for stealing.


Losing your freedom is a -100. That is, if you value freedom.


Depends on how long you're in jail for and if it's Club Fed, or a Super Max.

I'm sure there are tons of people that would be willing to risk a month or even a year in Club Fed for a chance at set for life money.

The calculation is different for everyone.


If jail were not a terrible place, would criminals to be choose not to be criminals and just go to jail?


Perversion is not a solution to deterrence. Moreover, there are grave consequences to disproportionate punishment: all parts of the system would fight against it in different forms, from commiting crimes to prevent being caught, to disproportionate punishments based on the quality of the lawyers, etc.

It would be a much better deterrent to know that if a crime were committed, the punishment came swiftly: the threat of (almost) immediate jail time is much more powerful than the maybe (your life is over).

Again, if a society truly valued freedom, just losing that would be such a great punishment. When you say that such a punishment is not enough its precisely because you dont value freedom that highly.

What brought me to this path was the simple thought exercise: should escaping jail be illegal? How can it be illegal if it is a fundamentally moral act?


Your phrasing is really unfortunate in the sense that it limits our conception of how to deal with other humans. Yes, if we are trying to keep the malignant hoards at bay, then 'incentivize' with a whip. It's a fundamentally negative view of humanity and human nature.


Norway also has social welfare programs so prison is not anyone's best option.

Prisons aren't mainly intended to deter crime, they are for satisfying the public's vengeance lust and to divert taxpayer funds to cronies of government officials.


People glance over and talk around it, but part of prison or punishment in general is to appease victims. I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Sending someone to a 4-star hotel after they've damaged a victim in some way will not appear as justice to the victim. Some people say that isn't the purpose of punishment, but it serves as a reason to "believe" in the justice system and processes itself, which is important.


It’s not just to appease victims, but to prevent them from seeking out their own justice, which is a noble endeavor. Blood feuds and cycles of retribution are the state of society without the capability to deliver justice.


The prison system itself creates a blood feud and cycles of retribution between the State and the citizenry (both the prisoners and their families).


An ugly side to the fact that without prisons, people take justices on their own hands if not satisfied.

Unfortunately, it is estimated 4% of people in jail are wrongfully incarcerated. What to do about those in this appeasing stance?


> Prisons as we know them are monuments to the hatred of freedom

I think restricting freedom of movement as punishment is saying that society values law and order (or safety) on equal footing with freedom.

Sure, there are tons of laws that don't make sense and that don't actually make us safer.

But for serious crimes the mechanism of removing your freedom if you remove our safety actually respects freedom as having a lot of value.

And for less serious crimes, you're correct the punishment rarely fits the crime.


To clarify: it is absolutely necessary, at least for our current toolkit, to rob someones freedom in exchange for the safety of others. But that should come at a very high cost to the punisher: that is society in general as well. Whereas today, it is common to curse someone to "rot in prison" or to suffer torture at the hands of the state, the police or other inmates. That vengeance is not sated because freedom is not valued highly.


US prisons do far more than restrict movement. they infringe on prisoners liberties in dozens of ways unfelated to public safety, from reading material to phone calls to lifestyle within prison and more


If a society valued freedom as highly as possible, sending someone to prison would be such a spectacular condemnation that great accomodations would be offered.

This is nonsensical. If we valued freedom, we'd make prisons into resorts?

Prisons are intended first and foremost to punish criminal offenders and to deter them from committing additional crimes by removing their opportunity to further offend. If they were luxurious, you'd get plenty of people who would commit crimes just so they could keep enjoying the life of luxury you propose. Not every cares about abstract concepts like freedom.

US prisons are also not as bad as most people think. In the real world, they're mostly like Orange is the New Black, not Oz.


Yet US prisons do solitary confinement. It is estimated that 4% of inmates are wrongfully convicted(innocent, at least of the crime accused). Inmates have diminished capacity of communication, consumption, safety. There are a disproportionate populations in prison to respect to crimes actually committed.

Your indignation is just because you value freedom very lowly. It is true that another man's freedom is so worthless to oneself that it doesn't sate your thirst for vengeance.


I don't really know if I agree with the premise of this essay, mostly due to its deeply religious argument. Beyond its intense spirituality however its message is quite clear- the writer considers prisons to be a horrific phenomenon, and because horror is a reaction of morality, a morally unacceptable phenomenon.

The writer goes on to emphasize that prisons are morally unacceptable, but also importantly the normalization of imprisoning humans to be morally unacceptable.


The author probably only finds confinement-as-punishment morally unacceptable because he believes that just punishment will be meted out in the afterlife anyway. If you take away the assumption of religion, there's really no argument left.


If he's appealing to Catholic social teaching and using that thinking, he's definitely missing the point.

No proper Catholic would think, "We don't need to punish people now because they'll get theirs in the afterlife". That is absolutely not a Catholic view for a number of reasons.


I believe the discussion on the morality of making imprisonment the default choice is pretty interesting:

"But we are not merely allowing the abomination of the prison. We are promoting it (and in popular culture and politics, romanticizing it). And in the case of the very limited number of those with deeply disordered desires, we are taking the tremendously difficult task of healing, a task best addressed locally, in families, neighborhoods, and communities, and elevating it the level of the state, where rationalized violence compounds and conceals the real harm that must be addressed."


It seems there is a shift in the terminology used - at least in the US - by explicitly referring to people being caged. This is the second article in a few weeks I read with this new language. The previous one was I think an article about the jail in NY left without electricity. I must say even if it seems at first to be a strong vocabulary it doesn't seem to me exaggerated. Maybe it will help people understand the overall inhumanity of the current situation.


I only skimmed, but...there weren't a bunch of supporting arguments in this piece, right? The argument is basically "people in cages is bad", which seems like a reasonable take if you never question why people are in there.

Anger doesn't "mark...our reaction to encountering a wrong" if our reaction is not grounded in truth.

There is plenty of room for criminal justice reform, but not by banning prisons, and not by this kind of argumentation.


Reminds me of Norway's implementation of prisons:

https://www.businessinsider.com/why-norways-prison-system-is...

Treating people with decency and respect, and giving them options to better their life usually does wonders.


Norwegian prisons are based on the aspect that "people make mistakes, but they can improve", in other words, rehabilitation. Most countries have based their prisons on the view that prison should be a form of punishment for wrong doings.


> Attacking the image of God in the human is abominable, but this need not be a literal attack. Rather, a literal attack names but one species of the genus ‘domination,’ a broader category in which one imposes an arbitrary will on another. An individual can dominate, or a social system.

I am enjoying seeing anarchist anti-capitalism popping up everywhere. This professor should check out Current Affairs and Nathan J. Robinson, folk punk, Proudhon...

> Just as human-made categories disguise themselves as divine, divinity is obscured by social conventions.

I feel the professor would appreciate some Buddhist teachers!


Wow this is something else. The historical revisionism and simultaneous appeal to Catholicism is ridiculous.

While prisons have many problems and the church has spoken against poor treatment of prisoners for many years, the opposite conclusion -- that we should abolish prisons -- is nowhere to be found in the compendium of social teaching. Moreover, the idea that prisons should serve a purely restorative role is a modern invention. While restoration is certainly one goal, catholic teaching also commands just punishment for crimes. The issue today is disproprotionality in the sentence when compared with the crime committed.

Had the author stuck to that point, he would have had a good essay. Instead he claimed all prisons are immoral. This is simply at odds with the Catholic social teaching that just societies must seek temporal justice on behalf of the victimized

Claims that prisons did not exist in the past are met with obvious skepticism when you read about the apostles being imprisoned for sedition as well as the catholic moral commandment to visit the imprisoned. Long sentences are of course more common today as the power of the state has grown, but this is not something to be criticized since many prisoners who have long sentences today would have been swiftly executed in the past.

(Focusing on catholic teaching here because its from notre dame and Villanova)


And it's nice to see Catholic teaching represented clearly here. These days, Catholic social teaching is being distorted and downright misrepresented by many people (including the current Pope because of his sloppy and imprecise language).

We absolutely must practice mercy and forgiveness, but not at the expense of justice and security. St Augustine's doctrine of just war does not contradict Christ's admonition to "turn the other cheek".


>social teaching is being distorted and downright misrepresented by many people (including the current Pope because of his sloppy and imprecise language)

Isn't catholic social doctrine dictated by the pope?


>Isn't catholic social doctrine dictated by the pope?

Yes, but it's more akin to how US Foreign Policy is dictated by the President.

Ignoring the religious aspect for a bit. The Pope has the power to dictate Catholic social doctrine, but he primarily interprets existing doctrine, which has been established over 2000 years. I don't believe that the current Pope has taken any steps to explicitly change doctrine, merely to explain it.

For example, the church considers abortions to be a sin (murder). This has often resulted in penalties and bias against women who have had an abortion within the church. Pope Francis has called for more love and respect towards these women. This was not presented as a change in doctrine, however the language is imprecise so it can be interpreted as "abortion is not a grave sin" or as "love the sinner, hate the sin." Obviously people will use the imprecision to support their agenda.


In a sense yes, but for example the doctrine of infallibility is restricted to specific and explicit official pronouncements 'ex cathedra'. It does not mean they believe the pope is incapable of sloppy or imprecise language in ordinary conversation for example.


No, not really. Catholic social doctrine is dictated by all the popes now and in the past. When this pope and a previous pope contradict, one of them is being interpreted incorrectly. The Church also is guided by its own traditions, ultimately meaning the collective decisions of bishops in the past.

In other words, the pope trying to dictate social doctrine would result in massive unpopularity or schism. That is why this pope is unpopular in some circles. Whether that's deserved or not is not an argument I'm having today.


> the pope trying to dictate social doctrine

To be precise, social doctrine that is contradictory to what the Church previously taught would be a problem.

The Pope can and should and does dictate correct Catholic social doctrine.


Yes and no. Catholic social doctrine is dictated by the Gospels as interpreted by the Church. The Pope and other church authorities can (and do) clarify and further elucidate this teaching, but they cannot change it.

For instance, the Bible does mention how to deal with issues of bioethics, modern financial and economic systems, and many other topics because they simply didn't exist at the time.

So we need Church authorities to apply and interpret these teachings to modern issues. The Pope can and should and does tell us how to apply Catholic teaching in modern situations, but he might communicate poorly (this is a real problem with Pope Francis), or even make mistakes.

Papal infallibility is very specifically and narrowly defined and is rarely applicable. It has only been invoked twice in the last 150 years, both times for doctrinal statements relating to Mariology (i.e., Mary the Mother of God, not the monkey-fighting plumber guy, although I find that idea amusing).

In both cases, Pope Pius IX and Pius XII were establishing as doctrine teachings that had been believed and taught for centuries, and which refined, but did not fundamentally change anything.

Popes sometimes refer to an infallible statement, but this is merely a reiteration of existing doctrine (e.g., When Pope John-Paul II invoked infallibility in the restatement that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women, but he wasn't saying anything new).

The Pope's authority is valid only in as much as he is consistent with the teachings passed down from the Apostles, and when he is making statements that are consistent with Catholic teaching and in communion with the bishops and traditions of the Church.

As an example, Pope Francis' claims that capital punishment is always wrong contradicts traditional Catholic teaching. Now the application of capital punishment in a modern society may be unacceptable for reasons of the protection of rights of the accused (e.g., overturning a wrongful conviction doesn't any good if the no-longer-a-convict is dead), maintaining safety (e.g., life imprisonment keeps society safe from people who are too dangerous to be in society), and the process is just too unwieldy to be exercised in an efficient and just way (e.g., people being on death row for decades through endless appeals).

But this does not mean that capital punishment is inherently wrong, and this is what the Church has always taught. Francis is expressing an opinion here, one that is worth considering, but he is not changing Church teaching because he can't.

For the record, I don't support capital punishment, but for reasons stated above, not because it's inherently wrong, but because it is not necessary. If I were living in a small community on an isolated island, or in many other situations, my opinion might be different.


>> It has only been invoked twice in the last 150 years, both times for doctrinal statements relating to Mariology

This is a common but absurd misconception, implying that only twice in 2000 years a pope made a statement that fulfills the requirements outlined in Vatican I, ie. making a statement 1) regarding faith and morals, 2) directed to the entire church.


I'm unclear as to where you are getting your idea of what is "correct" Catholic social teaching? I was always taught what is "correct" is essentially what the Bible and the Church say.


What the Church says refers to the 2000 years of writings and teaching that the Church and her bishops have collected. Those writings are at odds with what the author is saying. You do not need to take my word for it. Read the church fathers, the encyclicals of the previous popes (and this one as well), and read the writings of the great theologians, and you will get a good idea of Church social teaching.

You will also get a taste for how possible and how surprisingly often individual bishops misrepresent it, both today, and in the past.


I went to Catholic school and I've read them but I was also taught that the church is fundamentally a group of people and is allowed to change over time. The church is fundamentally a cultural institution and those people in the past were just people (the same as they are today) and to take them as the "correct" way to be Catholic over people now is just fetishising the past. They are used to guide the present, not try to set the Church in cultural stone.

Then again the monks who taught me were weird (all monks are in my experience) and my family is generally a fairly liberal form of Irish Catholicism. The monks example of evolution of Catholic theory they used was tolerance towards homosexuality becoming more and more prominent in the Church and how eventually it will be accepted as the church adapts to modern thought or the church will die. It fundamentally exists to serve it's constituants and part of that is adapting to them.


There are many aspects of Catholic teaching that can be modified and refined, as well as rules of discipline, but the doctrinal moral and theological teachings of the Church cannot be changed.

For instance, "No meat on Fridays during Lent" is a rule of discipline and bishops are free to modify this or even eliminate it should they wish. Holy Days of Obligation, aside from every Sunday, are also disciplinary rules, and are sometimes different from diocese to diocese, even within a single country (like the U.S.).

Priestly celibacy is also a discipline rule that could be modified (but almost certainly won't be, IMO). It's only been universal in the Roman Church for about 1000 years or so, and some Rites allow for married priests, which is fine.

But the immorality of murder, abortion, sex outside of marriage, the definition of marriage, etc., etc., as well as teachings regarding the Divinity of Christ, the Real Presence and the Sacraments, are moral and theological doctrines of the Church and not subject to revision, and any Pope or bishop that attempted to claim otherwise would be engaging in material heresy.

Now having said that, discipline with respect to the correct teaching of Catholic doctrine has massively broken down (e.g., the monks you described) in the past half century, but that doesn't make it right, and it will eventually be corrected. At one point the vast majority of the Church was Arian, but that wasn't right either, and was eventually corrected as well.

The Church was established by Christ, and exists to correctly pass down His teachings. It is only serving its members by passing down those teachings, which are not subject to change, and by properly exercising the authority granted to it by Christ. Church Doctrine has never changed, and cannot and will not change. This is why there are over 40,000 Christian denominations which split off from the Catholic Church and from each other by attempting to change doctrine.


I haven't read the article. But wanted to add to what you said.

While you mention Christianity (specifically catholicism) and its influence on modern American criminal / prison system, I personally believe that the American criminal system is more influenced by the Islamic Sharia system when it comes to punishment.

Under the Islamic Sharia system, the laws are very harsh - you steal and your hand is cut off, you rape someone and you are stoned to death, you commit adultery and you are publicly lashed and so on.

But the Sharia also allows the victim (or their relatives) to forgive the perpetrator (with or without some compensation, usually money) in the spirit of Islam.

The American criminal legal system is modelled similarly - the punishments for most crimes are absurd - for e.g. US courts sometimes award absurd punishments of 200 years of jail time. Like the Sharia system, once punishments is awarded and carried out the system ensures you end up broken (in spirit, if not physically).

Where as in a Sharia system the victim decides on being compassionate or a "fair" compensation in lieu of a lesser punishment, in the US system this power is held with the government. And this is used as a bargaining chip to make "deals" with the accused (note that I don't say the guilty, as sometimes even the innocent make such deals afraid of the harsher punishment if they were to lose the trial).

(From what I have read, some of the founding fathers of the US were admirers of the Islamic empire and their political and legal system influenced by Islam).


I commented myself then deleted it because your rebuttal was more elegant :-)

As a father of daughters I am personally glad that prisons exist and fully understand the issues with incarceration, but gladly accept the trade-off (like many moral dilemmas the optimal choice may differ from person to person). Were I African American and more likely to be wrongly imprisoned, I might feel differently.


> As a father of daughters [...]

> Were I African American [...] I might feel differently.

Why can't you incorporate women's issues into your world view without having daughters? Or civil rights issues without being black?


> Why can't you incorporate women's issues into your world view without having daughters? Or civil rights issues without being black?

Most people are most sympathetic to the plight of themselves and perhaps their children. The GP has daughters and is presumably not African-American.

I wonder if you're talking about an attitude that you think the OP ought to have, whereas he/she is describing the attitude that he/she does have.


> I wonder if you're talking about an attitude that you think the OP ought to have

Yes, of course I am. My question was rhetorical. It sounds like that person understands that there are serious race issues in the criminal justice system but is willing to overlook them for his own self interest. I think we'd all be better off if we cared a bit more about people who are different from us.


Because many people are incapable or unwillling to practice viewing issues from perspectives other than their own.


> "As a father of daughters I am personally glad that prisons exist"

How does one follow from the other? I also have daughters and it hasn't affected my view of prisons one way or the other.


Makes me more grateful for law enforcement in general. Women are more likely to be victims of violent crimes.


The implication that being the father of daughters has some kind of special relevance for one's views on prisons strikes me as poorly thought out. At best it comes across as paternalistic.


>At best it comes across as paternalistic.

Well it's perfectly normal for a father to be paternalistic.


As a father of a daughter, I particularly enjoy snow cones. Non-sequiturs are fun!

When my daughter was born, my mom asked if my views on the death penalty (which I have historically opposed) have changed. When I said no, she asked "if someone hurt her, wouldn't you want them to die?" And I had to think about this, because yes, I probably would. But what I want and what is right aren't necessarily the same thing.

Our entire justice system is fucked, at every possible level. If I put my daughter in the shoes of every victim out there, how would that possibly help me see things more objectively and make things better? You need to think outside your experience.


Yikes dude. You should feel empathy because women and black people are fellow humans, not because you _are or have fathered_ someone in those groups.


As a person of color, I always find your reasoning (not the dad's) somewhat ridiculous. The fact is being related to someone who may be impacted by these things does actually change how people behave. My non-POC wife married me, and obviously, she now cares more about issues facing people of color. Not that she didn't care in the past, but now it's not a matter of an abstract idea (which people rarely put themselves out to defend), it's her children and husband.

Cut the guy some slack. It's perfectly natural to prefer those you are family with.


It seems to me you're committing an is/ought fallacy. The GP was was describing his/her actual feelings on the matter, not the idealized feelings you seem to be recommending.


Alright, I guess I can revise my comment to say that I feel like it's kind of fucked that GP's empathy only extends to his self and no further.


Empathy is an often overused word. It is quite likely your empathy only extends to yourself and a few other intimate relationship. Empathy refers to the ability to actually feel another's pain. Very few people can do this for anyone more than their family and close friends.

Most people ought to instead focus on cultivating sympathy, which is the intellectual realization of another's suffering, and turning that sympathy into action.


Empathy is understanding, sympathy is recognition.

If I stub my toe you don't have to feel that pain to empathize it, you have to understand what it feels like to suddenly be in pain. Sympathy in that situation would only require recognizing and pitying someone who is in pain, without necessarily understanding it.


The word empathy was originally understold to mean actually feeling the pain of someone else in pain. Sympathy had the meaning you ascribe to empathy: understanding intellectually that the person in pain is having a tough. That the words take on ever extravagant meanings indicates that theyve become so cliche as to be meaningless.


I'm not talking about an intellectual understanding, I'm talking about emotional understanding. Sympathy is intellectual understanding (i.e., recognition), but is not emotional understanding.


Emotional understanding means feeling the emotions of the other. If you do not feel what the other is feeling yourself, then you simply have an intellectual appreciation, which you agree is sympathy. Don't take my word for it.

Merriam-webster defines empathy(https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy):

> the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings,

Notice the 'and vicariously experiencing'. If there is no experience, it is not empathy. Stop using the word to mean something it is simply not.


I have very high levels of empathy for others, but without a viable alternative I am willing to accept the current system. I would be happy to see it improved. The European model for justice doesn’t work either. Crimes are simply not prosecuted.


> Just as anger marks our reaction to encountering a wrong and love marks our reaction to encountering the good, horror is a moral emotion marking our encounter with an abomination.

"If something makes me feel bad, therefore it is bad. If something makes me feel good, therefore it is good."

Yes, prisons are unpleasant. Yes, we have a lot of people in there that probably don't belong there.

But we also have a lot of people that just can't integrate without society without committing egregious crimes no matter how many chances they get. What do we do with people like Charles Bronson[1]? Of course, fluff pieces like this don't propose any solutions, just make sweeping declarations that prisons should go away because a 5-year-old spoke a profound truth that keeping people in cages is wrong.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Bronson_(prisoner)


> Yes, prisons are unpleasant

I think that's a bit of an understatement. For a vast number of inmates, prisons seem to be hell on earth.


Are they really that bad though compared to historical prisons? What makes them "hell on earth"? Modern prisons you get climate control, TVs, gym access, library access, (limited) internet access, 3 meals a day, etc. Not even 200 years ago, prisons were often the crawlspace under a building where the ceiling was only 4 feet off the exposed ground. If it was summer, you sweltered. If it was winter, you froze. No entertainment of any kind was provided, you couldn't even stand up straight without hitting the ceiling and you were lucky to be fed once a day.


> Are they really that bad though compared to historical prisons?

Yes. But that particular comparison wasn't the point anyway.

> What makes them "hell on earth"?

Beatings. Rapes. Gangs. Drugs. Being forced to do illegal things by the guards. Prisoners being at the mercy of people whose word always trumps theirs (which means they will lose most cases of "I said, he said", which is a big deal in prison). Many inmates enter prison as petty criminals and end up graduating to the big leagues inside.


Put him in a secure hospital.


How is a "secure hospital" different from a "prison"? Presumably the patient can't leave, which means locked doors, barbed wire fences, etc. If the patient is violent, that means security personnel, meals through slots in the door, etc.

"secure hospital" is just a euphemism for "prison"


He was put in two different secure hospitals, but he attempted to murder a patient at both. The prison service and the forensic psychiatry service have thus far been unable to change Bronson's violence and hostage-taking behaviour; solitary confinement thus far appears to be the only reasonable option to protect society from Bronson.

He is an outlier and is in no way representative of the broader prison population, but he does rather puncture the case for abolitionism.




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