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Michael Cicconetti (wikipedia.org)
201 points by vezycash on Aug 13, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 89 comments

America has cycled back and forth between retributory “justice” (punishment and “law enforcement officers”) and reformatory (penitentiaries and “peace officers”). Currently it’s in the most destructive of the first modes, and seems anchored there by being coupled to a private sector lobby and a propaganda of violence.

But history has shown it could cycle back to more practical state, as exemplified by Judge Cicconetti. It doesn’t even require mushy idealism: a practical view of achieving the cheapest outcome shows that “hammer and tongs” doesn’t work.

While it does seem like a cycle or that "history bends towards justice", let us remember that history will not bend on it's own. We are the agents of history. It will not passively "cycle back" or "bend itself", we must make actions towards reformatory justice.

"But as I learned in the shadow of an empty steel plant more than two decades ago, while you can’t necessarily bend history to your will, you can do your part to see that, in the words of Dr. King, it “bends toward justice.” So I hope that you will stand up and do what you can to serve your community, shape our history and enrich both your own life and the lives of others across this country." - President Barack Obama - http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1886571...

When was the cycle ever on the side of reformatory, at large? I've only seen it in local pockets of municipalities.

Late 19th century/early 20th century. It's why a number of the prison systems in the east coast are called "Department of Corrections", and the facilities themselves often referred to as "penitentiaries".

The Boston municipal jail was shut down a couple of decades ago but when it was built about a century ago it was intended to be enlightened, providing the prisoners with light, fresh air, and exercise and allowing prisoners some internal liberty while being observed. By modern standards it wasn't a very nice place but at the time it was intentionally much better than the contemporary standard.

That period was the most revolutionary of any in the US's history, with many things under experimentation. The "initiative" (i.e. referendum) system used in various western states dates from this period for the same reason, and which even the name demonstrates.

The first thing this brings to mind:

> Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


The article on Judge Cicconetti doesn't mention how many of his alternative punishments have been challenged on appeal (or if that's even an option).

Let's say a judge wants to do something similar, but in a more malevolent way supported by the local community. What checks the power of this judge other than an appeal through the court system?

Case law has further defined "cruel and unusual punishment". The Supreme Court decision in Furman v. Georgia established that punishment must not: "by its severity be degrading to human dignity", "a severe punishment that is obviously inflicted in wholly arbitrary fashion," "a severe punishment that is clearly and totally rejected throughout society," or "a severe punishment that is patently unnecessary." severe punishment that is patently unnecessary.

I think it would be difficult to argue that any of Michael Cicconetti's creative punishments are "severe". Conversely, they appear to be relatively lenient compared to orthodox punishments. Additionally, the punishments are arguably the opposite of arbitrary, being designed to match the specifics of the crimes.

Courts have ruled that punishment must be both cruel AND unusual to qualify. These sentences are unusual but not cruel. Prison may be cruel but is not unusual.

I always wondered how the death penalty passed this test and I guess this is how. You can certainly say it's cruel but obviously not unusual.

Well the other way it passes the test is that it certainly wasn't abolished by the Constitution when it was written, so why would it be abolished by the Constitution today? Only if it got particularly unusual, at which point the Eighth Amendment would kick in to protect against one rogue judge meting out a punishment that had been largely abandoned by society.

I think the definition of what is cruel and unusual changes. When the US Constitution was written people were still being hanged, drawn and quartered.

I wonder if the fact that he offers it as a choice mitigates some of the concern.

Had this same thought. It'd be hard to argue a punishment was "cruel or unusual" if you picked it over a punishment that is already legally accepted and the standard (fine or jail).

According to the wiki article, the sentences aren't mandatory. They're presented as a choice where one choice is a period of time in jail and the other is an action in the community and a shorter period of time in jail.

IANAL but, I suspect that since the full length jail sentence is considered neither cruel nor unusual and is an option for the convicted person, that should mean that if they choose a different option, it can't be cruel because they found that option more pleasant than one that is already determined to not be cruel. I guess this assumes that people will tend to choose the less cruel punishment given two options, but that seems like a safe assumption.

> > Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


> During heavy blizzards, he ordered defendants to clear snow at a retirement home.

I didn't check them all. This one however, I find dubious. Because essentially he is putting these defendants in harmful, dangerous weather.

The other option is the standard one: jail. So, I don't see anything negative in it.

> the national recidivism (repeat offender) rate is over 75%, the rate in Judge Cicconetti's court is just 10%

Who knew that generic jail/prison punishments don't rehabilitate.

If you click the source for that 10% number, it's the judge himself.


> Nationally, the recidivism rate after incarceration is over 75 percent, with close to 50 percent of ex-convicts committing a new crime that can land them back within a year, according to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Justice. But Cicconetti claims to have a recidivism rate of only 10 percent.

I'd like to know what the DOJ's numbers would say for his area... and similar counties in the area.

Or the national rate is far from uniform. Google tells me the Ohio State rate is 27.1 percent. I wonder what it's like in neighboring counties, or for people in the same area who get a different judge.

Correlation, causation, something, something.

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but the lack of correlation does definitely imply a lack of causation as well.

So while it's not correct to say Cicconetti's approach lowers recidivism, or that jail time increases it, it's definitely correct to say that a punitive, jail-heavy approach to justice is not at all effective at rehabilitation.

> a lack of correlation does definitely imply a lack of causation as well.

That's not true as well, see Friedman's Thermostat for the extreme case

Generally rehabilitation percentages for "alternative punishments" can be misleading because they tend to be applied to situations where they're more likely to succeed

Ok, fair. My point is only valid insofar as the two variables are the only variables in the system. :)

Thanks for bringing up Friedman's Thermostat, I wasn't aware of that thought experiment, and it's a really great example.

> A man caught with a loaded gun was sent to a morgue to see corpses.

To me looks like something that should be compulsory to have a gun, to know the consequences of using it. I believe fewer people will have the guts of pressing the trigger after seeing that.

A friend applied this sort of thinking to teaching them to not run in the road. She took the kids to look at roadkill and told them when they asked what it is, she said that's what happens when an animal is in the road and gets hit by a car.

They were careful around the road without shouting or force.

This is how every boundary violation could be taught. "Here's this thing. Here's what happened to it and here are the effects. Any questions?" (Herein: "the pattern")

I'm now realizing this is maybe why we had the silly "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?" campaign.

Can we redo that campaign with every law & in a clear, literal,and real way children can understand? "Here's this/these living being/beings. Here's what it's like when they experience <violation>. Any questions? Call 800-555-1212 to register your question and ask the world on our livestream feed!"

Yeah...and let's do it live, with the goal of converting the entire legal code and precedents into something people can actually use.

We could also apply "the pattern" to universal life lessons, like solidarity > charity, coevolution > coexistence, mutualism > competition, and what the universal needs for thriving are.

the same should be done when you own a car

Drivers education classes usually include such films as "Blood on the Highway" for just that reason.

That may just limit gun ownership to psycopaths who have zero empathy.

Perhaps also everyone who chooses to not own a gun should be compelled to go to the morgue to see corpses of the victims of crimes, so they understand the evil of bystanding.

“Not owning a gun” equals ”bystanding”?

disclosure: I have been convicted of possession of marijuana in the past. I was given a 4 year sentence, commuted after just 7 months, due to overcrowding and a budget crisis.

people like Cicconetti probably make for a 'feel good' story but seeing this makes me bitter. Judges are elected officials in the US, so the judge you get can be pretty arbitrary. They are allowed to be callous, and impose very harsh sentences, with little or no oversight. They can lie, and be backed entirely by the prosecution.

If I had a judge that imposed 9 years in prison, or 3 weeks of standing in a field wearing a funny hat, I would immediately take prison. I dont know this judge and my appointed attorney for the state isnt exactly knocking it out of the park. Prison comes with formal educational options like finishing a GED or starting college. It has educated psychologists and psychiatrists to seriously help with some offenders major problems; its not just a clever guy in a robe. Finally, prison has work placement assistance and reintegration assistance if needed.

My "feel good" punishment will still come with a criminal conviction. The difference is I will have foregone any semblance of formal restitution in the eyes of my friends, family, or employers.

You will prefer spending 9 years in prison instead of 3 weeks doing random silly alternative. Because of all the benefits that come with being in prison.

Did I read this correctly?

This makes no sense.

Neither does a 4 year sentence for marijuana. Likely this was a parole violation and OP was forced to serve out the sentence he was previously paroled from.

4 year sentence for weed, I assume it's a huge quantity

Sadly your assumption is most often totally wrong.

> "Judges are elected officials in the US"

Depends on the jurisdiction.

Judges are biased, they hand out harsher sentences before lunch than after lunch, they also enforce a legal system with the threat of violence delivered by the law enforcement onto people and yet their own criminality is they don't get people to sign a contract agreeing to the laws of the land, and they don't educate people in the laws of the land. So you are setup to fail, no better than Hitler in my books.

People smoke weed for a variety of reasons, but one of them is to reduce stress which is caused by the GIRK pathways releasing potassium from the cells into the blood stream, hyperpolarisation. Try it by swapping sodium chloride with potassium chloride and you wont be half as stressed with modern life, your intelligence will increase and your physical performance will increase. The take away is this, sodium causes cells to take on water, potassium causes cells to take on glucose, amino acids and other nutrients. Sodium starves the body at the cellular level.

> they hand out harsher sentences before lunch than after lunch

You missed a follow-up. It happened because the original study failed to mention that these judges handled serious offenses before lunch leaving simpler cases for the after.

> Most people want to be good but for little obstacles or habits. We have to change the habits and remove the obstacles. That's our job.

I love this quote. Notice it applies to an infinite amount of contexts.

Wow this is really amazing. The amount of effort here and critical thought is eye-opening and obviously compelling. Why is this an outlier trait? What makes these qualities hard to attain for the rest? Applying this methodology requires mostly... critical thinking? Care? What’s missing from the rest of judges and in many ways I’m sure can be applied to other fields of expertise.

Although these punishments do not meet the high bar of "cruel and unusual punishment" as defined in the Furman v. Georgia decision, there is still the issue that judges are generally expected to act in an orthodox way.

For punishment to be an effective and fair deterrent, it must be predictable. In much the same way as judges in common law courts follow precedent in interpreting law, they follow sentencing trends in determining sentences. Additionally, their decisions are subject to the judgement of higher courts (appellate courts; Supreme Court).

Well there is the issue of "cruel and unusual" punishments being unconstitutional. But his seem too whimsical for that. I mean, the "pepper spray" was actually water.

His success is in giving the accused a CHOICE.

Here's jail, and here's something else with less jail time or non - Choose. Parents already do that to their kids, some schools to students. His innovation is in applying it to Law.

Without choice, his method would be considered abuse of power.

These kind of 'sentences' are one step away from making this judge a star of a reality TV show. Punishments that deviate from the norm are not inherently bad, but there needs to be a line between actual sentences and what seem like a Monty Python sketch.

Now, these offenses seem to be of mild nature, but who is to say that a world where equally ludicrous punishments for serious offenses is impossible?

A crucial point here is that his punishments are unusual but not cruel.

There is nothing more cruel than taking away the one resource a person cannot ever recover: time.

Creative, or even corporal (e.g. 20 lashes), punishments are A. more effective, and B. less cruel, than prison time.

There is a Spanish Judge (Emilio Calatayud) that does something similar[1][2]. I wonder if that is a kind of School of Lawn.

[1] http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/world/archives/2004/07/18/20...

[2] https://inglesiesollosgrandes.blogspot.com/2012/05/emilio-ca...

"A man who committed a traffic violation while shouting "pigs" at police officers was made to stand on a street corner with a 350-pound pig and a sign that said "This is not a police officer."

"A nanny accused of hitting a boy with a belt was compelled to read articles on the consequences of child abuse, and then discuss them in the courtroom in front of the judge, the victim's mother, and spectators."

Very odd that a judge, working on behalf of the United States legal system, would create a new punishment specifically in response to a citizen calling police officers "pigs", which is not illegal in the United States.

I think the reason he is getting a punishment in the first place is the traffic violation. Yelling "pigs" was just a cherry on top that helped when it came to coming up with his "unusual punishment" for this scenario.

Even though the act of shouting it in itself wasn't illegal, it was still not nice and disrespectful given the circumstances, hence why it was incorporated into the punishment. I am struggling to think of a nice "unusual punishment" in this traffic violation scenario that wouldn't incorporate the yelling part, but I guess I am not as creative as this judge.

Meant as a derogatory slur, its ok? I can shout at the Mexican-Americans down at Big Box store now without repercussion? Disturbing the peace at the very least. Public nuisance.

Racial heritage is a protected class. The people who lord over me with a monopoly on legal violence had better not be.

Public nuisance is a thing, no matter why its being done or who its done to. Not illegal because of the target; illegal because its a deliberately public-disturbing outburst. Like crapping on the street - never mind who you were trying to send a message to, its just not to be done.

Unless you're saying I could be arrested for standing on the street and yelling "cow" a single time, I don't think you agree with yourself.

If you're blocking a funeral procession at the time, I could understand an arrest and misdemeanor charges.

If nobody is there, nothing is being disturbed.

HN is global, but many of are happy to live in the (relative) freedom of the USA, not Singapore or Communist CCP China.


> In July 2016, Joshua Condiotti-Wade of Colorado participated in a public protest with signs that said "Fuck Bad Cops" and "Blue Lives Murder." Commerce City police officer Chris Dickey approached him, accusing him of trespassing and disorderly conduct. [...] > Condiotti-Wade has now received $175,000 in compensation from the city."


Try not to commit a crime while you are exercising your rights.

Largely unrelated? In that case, the bystander was trying to distract the officer. In the one above, it was the offender that was recalcitrant.

Reminds me a lot of the concept of contrapasso [0] in Dante's Divine Comedy.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrapasso


It would be an interesting experiment to crowd-source these types of punishments/penance. Not in a binding sense, but as a way to lobby judges for sentences that might best rehabilitate the offenders.

Would be interesting to just make a parallel 'moral-social' legal system, where the public could non-bindingly find people guilty of a crime against society and ask them to do something to make it right.

A million people all sharing "Bob did a bad thing, and I'll shun him until he does X" would be a very strong incentive for action. I'd imagine employers would soon start looking up prospective candidates on this service before hiring.

This story brings to mind a judge profiled in the third season of Serial, who liked to give unorthodox punishments that ended up shaming the defendants, were difficult to follow, and ended up trapping them in a cycle of parole and further punishments.

I try not to be cynical, but my perception is that for every one of these judges who can think up positive punishments, there's at least one who's creativity ends up in a more sinister place. And regardless of a judge's talent in this regard, they have the position and the incentives to make their outcomes seem better than they are.

Please read the article! He gives them the choice between the "standard" punishment (days in jail and such) and his "unorthodox punishments". And the later are, as close as possible, focused on repairing the problem, not punishing.

I don't know, his punishments seem to vary in quality quite a bit.

On one hand, making a nanny who hit a child research and write a report on the effects of child abuse seems like an extremely good way to deter recidivism, and make an impression on the defendant.

On the other hand, making someone do an embarrassing public stunt seems like it would make them famous for the wrong reasons, severely handicapping their ability to find work in the future, to the point that it's ultimately worse than a short jail sentence. Embarrassing someone doesn't fix anything for them.


At least in the examples in Wikipedia, the punishments seem to focus more on making the defendant feel bad (in a hopefully educational way, not merely suffering), which is less good than making some form of reparation or restoration. The legal system already has a notion of community service as an alternative to jail; there is a lot of room for community service that uplifts victims while educating perpetrators.

For example, a nanny who hit a child could be sentenced to XX hours of sewing blankets for children in hospitals and orphanages.


Situations vary quite a bit.

I did read that. Giving a choice is better than not giving a choice, but I think my point still stands: a judge with malevolent creativity can do harm, whether they offer a choice or not. Consider a case where someone purposefully gives a bad alternative, or one that sounds worse to defendants, and later points out "I gave them a choice, they still took the years willingly."

You're missing the point, though.

Having the freedom to issue unusual punishments can be beneficial when the judge is positively motivated, but the same powers in the hands of a cruel or vindictive judge offer enormous potential for abuse.

People in power can be "positively motivated" to do terrible things. This is the history of abuse of power.

The unusual punisments can be beneficial when the judge and also the defendant, and victims (or their representatives) agree agree that the punishment is restorative.


I agree, but I think mandatory minimums and other forced sentencing requirements have much worse consequences. Having humans in the justice system with the freedom to make judgement calls is just a fact of life we have to live with.

There's ways we can mitigate the potential damage.

For example, give judges the power to issue unusual sentences, or ones violating the minimums, but have those sentences trigger an automatic review by an independent panel (perhaps a couple of appeals judges or something).

> And the later are, as close as possible, focused on repairing the problem, not punishing.

From the list, it seems that many belong to the "an eye for an eye" category rather than to the "repairing a problem" category.

This is the problem with unregulated power. If you do stuff like this judge does and have good judgement the outcome can be very positive. But it can also go horribly wrong if done by the wrong person with the wrong motivation. Same could be said for dictators. A well run dictatorship can probably be managed better than a democracy but it can also go very wrong if power gets into the wrong hands.

That’s why in the end we are in the long run probably better off with a set of rules that make sure that things are predictable and the same for all people.

> A well run dictatorship can probably be managed better than a democracy

See the Five Good Emperors for examples of this[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nerva%E2%80%93Antonine_dynasty...

Autocratic apologists? In my hacker news?

From the article you linked:

> The rulers commonly known as the "Five Good Emperors" were Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius.[4] The term was coined based on what the political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli wrote in his book, The Discourses on Livy

Machiavelli isn't really a great foundational source for modern government.


> The concept of "The Five Good Emperors" reflects the internal Roman point of view. [...] It is, however, not necessarily the point of view of provincials and of Rome's neighbors – particularly, of those targeted by one or more of these emperors in a war of conquest or in the suppression of a revolt."

It very much depends on one's point of view, and if you happen to be the right type of citizen to fall on the right sight of autocratic rule.

Don't defend tyranny.

On the flip side, try being a minority in, say, the USA in 1950.

The opposite of tyranny is not democracy. That's why the US Constitution has a Bill of Rights (which, despite its efforts, was still a massive failure for millions of Americans for over century).

It very much depends on one's point of view, if you happen to be the right type of citizen to fall on the right sight of democratic rule.

All governments are oppressive to _someone_. Israel looks oppressive to the Palestinians, and yet it's democratic. I don't see how the Roman Empire under Marcus Aurelius was any more tyrannical.

Autocracy != tyranny.

Anyway, I merely linked examples of good leaders. It's weird to view a historical factual observation as a kind of defence of/desire for that political structure. The context in the Roman Empire was totally different from the world as it is today, of course I'd prefer democracy.

His rulings are not unregulated and nor even remotely dictatorial! Read the article please, he gives them the choice between the "regular" days in jail and the other stuff.

Apart from that: one size fits all rules are exactly the problem. You can NEVER define a set of rules that are even close to being a good model for justice.

People should focus on people instead of code and aim to only put people like the judge in the article in positions of power and decision. An twisted person can twist any law into doing evil.

>This is the problem with unregulated power.

He's a judge. He gets elected. His power is regulated by his constituents. According to the article, this judge has continually been elected since 1996.

I am not saying he is a bad guy. But I can easily see a judge handing out inhumane treatment and get re-elected repeatedly.

> He's a judge. He gets elected.

I kinda find that more horrifying, really. It introduces a whole bunch of perverse incentives to the system. (Doubly so in the localities that don't require any legal experience, degree, or certification to be elected as a judge.)

As odd and degrading as some of these punishments seem nothing is as inhumane and degrading as incarceration. If you haven’t been incarcerated, or volunteered time in a prison, you can’t possibly know how bad it is.

> Furthermore, where the national recidivism (repeat offender) rate is over 75%, the rate in Judge Cicconetti's court is just 10%.

Wow. If this is true, it's impressive.

If you click the reference, it's the judge himself making the 10% claim.

You know who else was an Eagle Scout?

^^ Ross Ulbricht

I'm not really sensible to pets cruelty, because I differentiate pets, farm animals and wild animals. The latter kind matters the most obviously, and most people are guilty of killing wild life more or less directly, through their super consumerist life-style.

But of course, that doesn't justify pets cruelty at all, as well as wild animals or insects cruelty, at least on the same level

Every Sunday, I see at least one dead animal along the road, it was a fox 2 days ago, and a dozen bees, butterflies (yea I spend time looking at the road, when riding uphill)

It's brutal, but I've spent 2 years on my own without paying for any food in a city, I sort of self-sentenced myself, no regret though, I like a simple life

edit: if you disagree with this, have at least the courage to leave a good reason

The crux of the article is not cruelty to animals.

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