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June 24, 2006


Backword Dave

"only really nasty punishments will deter them." See Arthur Koestler's "Reflections on Hanging." Years since I read it, so my recollection is patchy, but it's still among the best books I've ever read. (Koestler eventually committed suicide, but the germ of the book was his being sentenced to death by Franco.) Anyway, we used to have public hangings when many crimes were capital, including theft. According to Koestler, pickpockets operated among the gawping crowds. Deterrent? Forsooth.

There's a lot of good stuff on judicial corporal punishment in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. O'Brian's disgust is evident.

Bob B

It happens that I'm not a supporter of either capital or corporal punishment but the current continuing debate about appropriate punishments for violent crimes and a voice for victims in court are really secondary to the prior and increasingly urgent consideration of actually catching and convicting those responsible. The really worrying facts are:

"An investigation shows that conviction rates for many of the most violent crimes have been in freefall since Labour came to power in 1997 and are now well below 10 per cent. The chronically low figures for convictions come at the same time as reports that violent crime is increasing."

"Ten years after Tony Blair famously pledged that Labour in power would be 'tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime', an Observer investigation reveals that conviction rates - the percentage of recorded offences that result in a guilty finding in court - have dramatically decreased. Robbers, rapists, other sex offenders and attackers who inflict life-threatening injuries are committing many more crimes, and have become much more likely to get away with them than when Labour was elected in 1997. Of the categories Straw identified, only burglary has fallen. Its conviction rate has increased - by 0.5 per cent."

"Robberies in England and Wales rose by 11% between July and September last year [2005], with overall violent crime up 4%, Home Office figures show. The rise came after robberies jumped 4% in the previous quarter following the ending of a government scheme to target the problem of street crime. Total recorded crimes fell 1% to 1.37m incidents compared with the same period a year ago, and burglaries were lower."

"Conviction rates for many of the most violent crimes have fallen to below 10% in the years since Labour came to power, while incidences of offences like serious wounding and rape have risen, reported The Observer.

"The paper said that analysis of Home Office figures indicated that only 9.7% of serious woundings reported to police resulted in a conviction, while for robberies the figure is 8.9% and for rape just 5.5%."

Anyone for more snake oil?


Corporal (and capital) punishment is not inflicted "by the state". Actually it's inflicted by humans on humans. That's why it's wrong. As is, of course, the possession of nuclear weapons. However, the latter can (possibly) be justified by realpolitik, where the former cannot.


Bob - I wrote to David Rose to complain about one of the stories you cite (no answer, mind you). Here's what I said:

I was disappointed by your story in last week's _Observer_, which seemed both alarmist and inaccurate. You wrote:

"The chronically low figures for convictions come at the same time as reports that violent crime is increasing."

and subsequently refer disparagingly to Charles Clarke attempting to

"[make] people believe the official position - that the huge rises in the levels of recorded violent and sexual crime are illusory, the result of more victims having the confidence to go to the police."

Whether or not this is a fair account of the 'official position', you must surely be aware of another, much more significant, contributory factor - the many changes to police reporting practices under Labour, with the adoption of a 'prima facie' evidential standard in 1998, the introduction of the National Crime Reporting Standard in 2002 and its subsequent repeated modifications. Each of these changes has led automatically to a rise in police recorded crime figures - in the case of the 1998 changes, a rise so abrupt as to invalidate historical comparisons across a broad range of offences. And, since the conviction rate is by definition a fraction of the recorded crime figure, every such change has led automatically to a drop in the conviction rate. New Labour's reforms to police practice have put not only the police but the CPS and the judiciary in the position of running to stand still.

Your failure to mention any of this context can only help to stoke the already-inflated levels of public concern about crime, which Clarke rightly attempted to treat as a separate issue from crime itself. I expected better from the _Observer_.

I can never remember which is the numerator and which is the denominator, but 10 out of 500 is a much smaller number than 10 out of 100.

Bishop Hill

I've often wondered if corporal punishment is, in some ways at least, rather more civilised than prison.

It's cheap (as you note above)and it's quick. As a system of punishment it has the benefit of quickly getting the guilty person back into society where (hopefully now deterred from reoffending) they can contribute something back to society. It would also give society a chance to demand restitution as well as retribution - in the shape of financial transfers from criminal to victim.

It also seems a bit unfair on the law abiding majority that they should suffer firstly at the hands of the criminal and should then suffer again by having to pay for his board and lodging for several years.

Corporal punishment is focussed entirely on the guilty person - imprisonment also affects innocent parties like the family of the guilty person. Children find themselves without a parent; families potentially without a breadwinner. Now obviously being deprived of a drug-addled father is not necessarily a bad thing, and if the bread is stolen rather than won honestly then that is clearly not good. But these situations will not apply to every case, so we need to think of those innocents who suffer when a criminal is imprisoned.

It's arguably an impeccably liberal policy therefore. So yes, why not bring it back?

Chris Williams

It's like the 1870s (and the 1950s, as it happens) all over again in here.

Chris D, it's interesting that you mentioned the 'yuk factor': usually you're pretty good on assigning value to all sorts of factors, so why the failure to do so today?

If you want to be able to consider this as some kind of response that can be measured and explained, you could do a lot worse than read Weiner's _Reconstructing the Criminal_, or Wood's _Violence and Crime in nineteenth-century England: the shadow of our refinement_.

As for Bob's point about crime stats: Phil is right. Bob, if you're not convinced, I can get very bibliographic very quickly.


So how many people have the UK burned to death in their millions using nuclear weapons? err, none I think, so why the comparison? Surely the phrase 'nuclear deterrent' means exactly that? The argument for or against corporal punishment should be on the same lines, i.e would it stop other crimes from happening, if so there's an argument.

angry economist

We could make even more savings by offshoring our capital punishment to China.

They execute about 30,000 criminals per year for a range of offenses. So bound to have quite an efficient system there by now. Plus lower wage costs.

Personally I am against corporal and capital punishment though.


Illiberal? Depends on whether you believe that dignity is a liberal value or not.


RE: Corporal Punishment

Spare the Quarter - Inch Plumbing Supply Line, Spoil the Child


24% of Americans believe that the Internet is able for a time to replace them with a loved one. For obvious reasons, such sentiments particularly prevalent among residents of the United States alone. Both men and women can replace the beloved, beloved trips to the World Network. However, the willingness to such transactions vary among followers of different ideologies: conservatives frowned relate to this idea, and the "progressive-minded" on the contrary, Nerkarat it.

Study company Zogby International also showed that every fourth resident of the United States have their own representation in the web-site or internet-stranichka. Creating internet-dvoynikov most passionate about young people (18-24 years of age) - 78% of them have personal Web page. In doing so, 68% of those surveyed said that the World Wide Web, they do not appear in its original capacity, their virtual overnight seriously different from the real.

Only 11% of Americans would agree implantable microchip in his brain, which would provide them with direct contact with the Internet. But the situation is changing, in the case of children. Almost every fifth resident of the United States would agree to equip their child safety device which would allow him to track the movement in space on the Internet.

10% of U.S. stated that the Internet brings them to God. " In turn, 6% are convinced that because of the existence of the World Wide Web God away from them.

And how you feel? Sorry bad English.


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