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dstebbins

Why are we psychologically predisposed to favor punishment over reform when the latter is universally scientifically proven to be more effective?

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When it comes to the criminal justice system, there are two general attitudes with which we can approach the situation: The first is to favor punishment. This involves inflicting concentrated and state-sanctioned suffering onto the offender (either through imprisonment, fines, or corporeal punishment such as state-sanctioned floggings, canings, or executions). The idea, here, is that the pain will, after the punishment concludes, cause the offender to not commit the offensive conduct in the future out of fear of enduring that suffering in the future. Punishments that never conclude, such as life in prison or the death penalty, are designed to scare people into not committing the associated offenses in the first place.
 
The second way to approach criminal justice is through reform, rather than retribution. Responses to the crime consist mainly of teaching the offender the error of his ways, showing him healthier ways to work through his problems, and teaching him to feel empathy towards others.
 
What I find rather interesting is that, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the two attitudes have almost no overlap. Governments focused on "teaching a lesson" to their criminals usually see it a waste of time to actually sit down with criminals and try to help them understand. They "understand" nothing but cause and effect. So all we really need to "teach" them is "cause: You rob a bank. Effect: You go to jail." Anything beyond that is a waste of time, energy, and taxpayer money, because even if it might work, the offender clearly doesn't deserve that benefit of the doubt! Those who constantly ask what they did wrong get repeatedly tased and pepper sprayed until they stop bothering the guards with stupid questions they already know the answer to.
 
Meanwhile, the vast majority of countries that focus more on rehabilitation rather than punishment (such as Norway or Sweden) see actual infliction of suffering as counter-productive to criminal rehabilitation, and as such, tend to keep the "punishment" aspect of their criminal justice systems to a minimum.
 
Now here's the thing about criminal justice: The former approach to rehabilitation of criminals is scientifically proven to not work. In fact, it is scientifically proven, not just to be wholly ineffective, but downright counter-productive to its goals of rehabilitating the offender. The latter (reform rather than punishment, like in Sweden and Norway) is overwhelmingly shown to produce consistently lower recidivism rates than the former.
 
So that begs the question: Why are we, as humans, psychologically predisposed to favor the former type of treatment than the latter? Wouldn't evolution have given us a tendency to prefer the type of response to criminal behavior that is more effective?
 
In the days of hunter-gatherers, it would obviously make sense, from a survival standpoint, to keep as many members of your tribe alive, and combat-capable, as possible, so you can have the best chance of fending off predators and enemy tribes, as well as perform the most communal manual labor. This would naturally compel a policy within the tribe of removing someone from the tribe (either through execution or banishment) only if it was absolutely, positively necessary. Even for punishments that don't result in the member being permanently removed from the tribe (such as a husband beating his wife without killing her), how would cavemen evolve to prefer to use the infliction of pain as a standard response to deviant activity ... if it doesn't work?!
 
From an evolutionary standpoint, what survival advantage could possibly be bestowed onto our ancestors in favoring a response to a problem that is consistently counter-productive to their goals?

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3 hours ago, dstebbins said:
 So that begs the question: Why are we, as humans, psychologically predisposed to favor the former type of treatment than the latter?  

 

Please establish that we are "psychologically predisposed to favor" punishment rather than rehabilitation. The fact that you have given examples of societies that do the latter would seem to undermine your position.

Alternately, you can change your premise.

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6 hours ago, dstebbins said:
So that begs the question:

Kudos for naming your own logical fallacy. You've assumed a LOT, you make claims of studies with no citations to support the claims, and you dabbled in some common sense guesswork wrt pre-agrarian legal systems. 

And besides punishment and reform, why aren't you including incarceration's other obvious benefit, removing criminal actions from the society? Besides justice, a community should experience less crime if the perpetrators of it are locked away.

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7 hours ago, dstebbins said:

The former approach to rehabilitation of criminals is scientifically proven to not work. In fact, it is scientifically proven, not just to be wholly ineffective, but downright counter-productive to its goals of rehabilitating the offender. The latter (reform rather than punishment, like in Sweden and Norway) is overwhelmingly shown to produce consistently lower recidivism rates than the former.

While this may be true it would be helpful if you cited studies so that we could determine exactly how effective or counter-productive they are.

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3 minutes ago, iNow said:

I agree with the criticisms above, but for interested parties I did explore a similar topic years ago. Thought I had a parallel thread at this site, but could only find it at the other linked here: https://thescienceforum.org/criminality-why-do-we-never-seem-to-learn-or-chang-t187.html

A good read...

Bad people tend to suffer and have suffered more than most, so they deserve the kindness of a good person more than most.

My reply to recent FB post that suggested we be kind to others dispite the bad people.

 

87400110_3078768082142278_6739764858155171840_n.jpg

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Tough question.  If I had to diagnose the problem I'd say it's a lack of sociological imagination (C. Wright Mills' term).  

Thus, humanitarian reform does work, as you pointed out.  Norway, for example, has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world, and treats their prisoners the most humanely.  However, if the populace (and their leadership) lacks the sociological imagination to see the bigger picture, or the populace (and their leadership) lack scientific understanding of the problem, then it doesn't matter what the facts are.

Yet another reason why education is so paramount (another element of the problem).  Without it, viable solutions slip past our collective mind like sand through the fingers of a neanderthal.  

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I'm curious if Norway's low recidivism rates are strictly due to their humane treatment of prisoners. For example, my understanding is that the culture of Norway favors conformity over individualism. It may be that Norway's system works so well because it is Norwegians who are entering the system. If their system was suddenly populated with a majority of Americans, their success rate might plummet.

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4 minutes ago, zapatos said:

I'm curious if Norway's low recidivism rates are strictly due to their humane treatment of prisoners. For example, my understanding is that the culture of Norway favors conformity over individualism. It may be that Norway's system works so well because it is Norwegians who are entering the system. If their system was suddenly populated with a majority of Americans, their success rate might plummet.

Indeed, but I'm curious, is the bad man really so different?

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3 minutes ago, dimreepr said:

Indeed, but I'm curious, is the bad man really so different?

I suspect he is. Growing up in poverty, gangs, drugs, guns and racism with no real hope for the future is bound to have a much bigger impact on someone than a person growing up in one of the highest quality of life environments. And why should an uneducated, poor black kid from a crime ridden neighborhood want to reform? What is in it for him? The opportunity to wash dishes for 10 hours a day? He can do that in prison. But if reform means opportunities like it might in Norway, then of course recidivism will be less.

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2 hours ago, Phi for All said:

 

And besides punishment and reform, why aren't you including incarceration's other obvious benefit, removing criminal actions from the society? Besides justice, a community should experience less crime if the perpetrators of it are locked away.

Do you mean this as a third alternative? Incarceration for either punishment or reform achieves this goal, but as an independent choice it would mean not doing other things to overtly punish, nor doing things to rehabilitate.

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2 hours ago, swansont said:

Do you mean this as a third alternative? Incarceration for either punishment or reform achieves this goal, but as an independent choice it would mean not doing other things to overtly punish, nor doing things to rehabilitate.

More of a factor the OP omitted (or "general attitude" as they put it) that could influence the disposition of the public. Punishment and rehabilitation are more about the criminal, where justice for the victims and removing bad elements are more about what society gets from the system, imo. 

In some cultures it's hard to convince folks people can change, so perhaps that's what the OP is noticing. Not a predisposition to punish so much as a skepticism about sincerity.

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1 hour ago, Phi for All said:

In some cultures it's hard to convince folks people can change,

I may be wrong but I am under the impression that rehabilitation is a core element of virtual all criminal justice systems, even when created from different cultural backgrounds (including religious ones). However, public perception can change and with them, support for certain laws. While it could be considered cultural, I also think that these structural changes have a much shorter turnover. For example introduction of zero-tolerance policing is a structural change in criminal justice and while it arguably has developed from a certain cultural background (and also has a stunning impact on society). At the same time, it is a modern development and once in place, other countries (e.g. UK under Cameron) were looking at it as a model. I.e. this changes can happen due to specific events (say, spikes in crime statistics) rather than some deeply seated cultural contexts (though the latter may influence likelihood).

I suspect I need to think about it a bit longer to give my thoughts some more coherence.

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Punishment is more popular than rehabilitation because lots of humans get a sense of satisfaction and pleasure from knowing people they believe are bad being made to suffer. And conversely, the idea that someone who commits crimes should be treated humanely and helped to become a more capable and productive citizen is unpopular. Rehabilitation can be perceived as about the best for the offender, despite preventing further crime, and that offends sensibilities of those who have been victims. I think popular opinion - often deliberately encouraged, through dramatic entertainment and political debate - has more to do with supporting punishment over rehabilitation than studies about recidivism; the good cop beats a confession out of someone bad or the nasty sex offender gets put in a cell with the biggest, nastiest sex offender of all. How satisfying! But our society's institutions and systems can put the issues into a context where it is not about how it makes people feel; facts are sought, wider consequences are considered, including genuine efforts to rehabilitate offenders and prevent recidivism.

The ability to feel good about something bad happening to someone, so long as we believe they are bad and therefore deserve it is one of humanity's most problematic traits. It doesn't require investigation and weighing of evidence to believe someone is bad and deserves harsh treatment; just being told they are bad can be enough. Worse, just sharing the religion, ethnicity, political ideology or just appearance as people deemed bad can be enough. It means brutal treatment is not automatically and intrinsically considered bad, but is dependent on what we think of the victims. What we think of the victims may have nothing to do with any direct or actual knowledge.

I suspect that in evolutionary terms this protected homo sapiens sensibilities in the face of recurring violence and conflict; we can support and participate in brutal acts but not have our sanity destroyed by it.

Edited by Ken Fabian

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