The Carrot and the Stick – The Irony of Deterrents Part #5

This series is intended to clarify the role and the efficacy of our use of deterrents, both in our households as a parenting tool and in society as a major premise upon which we have based our approach to criminal justice. Here’s the rest of the series:

(Part #1 sucked . . . you can find it on my blog, there’s a search button – but you’re not missing much.)

My premise is this:

When a deterrent works, when someone chooses not to engage in ‘naughty’ or criminal behaviour, then that’s terrific, it’s all good. A child may feel some betrayal at hearing that his caregivers are prepared to hurt him, and in a better world that would be a problem to solve, but in this world we have bigger fish to fry, namely the actual hurt that happens all too often.

It is when the deterrent fails that needs to be looked at, because actual, real world punishments have been shown to increase childhood misbehaviours in the longer term, and it follows that this is also the case in the world of adult criminality. In fact, our “legitimate” punishments cause the very same suite of damages that we all know illicit abuse causes, and so the failure of a deterrent isn’t simply a failure and the lack of a positive outcome, but a net decrease in the quality of life in our families and in our society. It’s a negative.

Our punishments are hurting us. Sounds like a no-brainer when we say it like that, doesn’t it?

We like to talk a lot about rehabilitation, the non-liberals consider that its success rate isn’t good enough and that as such, simply means a waste of money and resources, while the liberals consider it to be important, and if it gets a few percent of people out of the criminal life and the criminal justice system, then we owe to all criminals to try it. I’m here to tell you that rehabilitation isn’t what is failing.

What is failing is not the carrot, but the stick.

If someone wants to explain to me why giving someone an education or a trade won’t work, they’ll need to do something.

They’ll need to show that rehabilitation, when administered alone, without being accompanied by abuse, is failing. We know what abuse and fear does do people, and what it does, how to put this . . . what it does is not this: make people happier, less violent, less addicted and smarter. Personally, I see all punishment as abuse, but for this argument, I’ll settle for this: prison is abuse. Prisons are violent, terrifying places where there is danger in every shadow. We mostly think that’s a good thing, because that is where the deterrent lies, but this being my point in this series: when it’s a threat or a promise, it’s a deterrent. When it’s reality, it’s abuse, and damaging to those living in it.

Rehabilitation is an attempt towards improvement in a person’s performance in society; the abuse of life in prison is almost a guarantee of no such improvement, in fact, as stated in the film “Blow” as well as everywhere, prison is Crime University. That is the education many convicts get, along with the abuse that we know is the best way make people meaner and less interested in the legitimate life of lawful society. So these two ideas are diametrically opposed: if we really wanted to rehabilitate anyone, we wouldn’t abuse them before, throughout, and after their rehab program. Think of it in terms of how the kids in school with the most abusive, violent parents don’t all grow up to be the doctors and leaders, how abuse and corporal punishments have been shown, over and over, to negatively impact cognition and grades. In that sense, the hard-liners of public policy are correct: doing both of these things is mostly a waste of our money and time. It’s just that it’s not the rehab that’s at fault. It’s not the carrot that’s eating all of our resources. It’s the stick.

All that money we’re spending on abuse, and it’s creating crime, making criminals worse, because that’s what abuse does. If we want to see what can be done with the carrot – with an offer of a life for these people – we need to give the carrot without employing the stick at the same time, rehabilitation OR abuse. We need to make our prisons safe for our inmates, is what I’m saying. Sure we need to lock some dangerous folks up, but let’s spend that money a little smarter, and lock them up in such a way where they have a chance to improve themselves, make them safe from one another, more space, individual quarters.

Sure it’s more money, but it’s money with a return. The money we’re spending now is only creating crime in the long run.

9 thoughts on “The Carrot and the Stick – The Irony of Deterrents Part #5

  1. truthaholics February 2, 2015 / 10:14 pm

    The tendency in both parenting and government to over react and over reach simple discipline issues by becoming rigid and authoritarian, usually by usurping emergency power is really a gross abuse of privilege. This ultimately does more harm than good because it fuels frustration, resentment, defiance even deviancy all of which are counter-productive and cause alienation, which is one of the worst family and social ills to solve properly.

    Yet at root, instead of acknowledging this most simple human instinct to control everyone and everything for what it is, one often sees abdications of responsibility, the most classic authoritarian refrain being: ‘It’s for your own good!’

    I hope people look back and realise we can achieve far, far more with a spoonful of honey than a bucket of vinegar, especially with those entrusted to our care to promote their welfare and for a decent upbringing!


    • neighsayer February 3, 2015 / 7:03 am

      Unfortunately, a nation or a culture doesn’t rule the world because they’re gentle at heart. America’s love of retribution and punishment is all one with their militarism and Judeo-Christian doctrine of world domination. It would be the same if I was asking Rome or Sparta to be nicer to its kids and its criminals. But you know, you gotta express yourself, it’s a slightly different matter whether anybody listens or not.


  2. bdlheart February 3, 2015 / 6:20 am

    Your insight here is spot on. In my early twenties, I worked in a residential psych center for kids. The last stop before prison life. These kids all came from abusive homes and the majority were wards of the state of Indiana. I observed kids mimicking behavior that was hazardous to positive growth. The kids were warehoused. Doors were locked. It was kiddie jail at its finest. Much sarcasm.
    Great post!


      • bdlheart February 3, 2015 / 8:25 am

        Coming around. No headache going on 3 days now. Score! Hope to be on more this week.


        • neighsayer February 3, 2015 / 8:59 am

          good to hear. Don’t push it, but I’m looking forward to hearing more from you . . .

          Liked by 1 person

          • bdlheart February 3, 2015 / 5:56 pm

            Thank you! I’m refraining from pushing my foot down on the accelerator, but can’t say it isn’t tempting. Lol


  3. takingthemaskoff February 7, 2015 / 6:32 am

    You are brilliant. You know there is nothing like this on the internet. You have such a unique way of writing. I love it.

    Liked by 1 person

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