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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.


Indeed.

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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice


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.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice


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.

Further:

> 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.)




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