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October 3, 2009

"Killing puts 'castration' on French agenda"

The title of this post is the headline of this article forwarded by a helpful reader that details an on-going sentencing debate in France after a high-profile crime by a sex offender with a criminal history.  Here are the details:

France is considering forcing some sex offenders to undergo chemical castration after a public outcry over the murder of a jogger by a rapist who had recently been released from prison. The prime minister, François Fillon, said the government was looking at legislation on hormonal treatment for offenders after the abduction and killing of Marie-Christine Hodeau.

The 42-year-old, who lived alone with her elderly mother, was snatched on Monday morning while out for her regular jog in a forest south of Paris. Just after 9am, she called police on her mobile phone from the boot of a car, saying she had been grabbed by a man with a knife. She gave the car's number plate, but the call was suddenly interrupted.

Police moved fast to trace the car and its owner, Manuel da Cruz. But for days the French public were gripped as searches did not find the woman. Hodeau's DNA was found under the fingernails of Cruz's left hand and eventually he led police to her naked body, hidden in undergrowth 12 miles from where she was abducted....

Public shock was compounded when it emerged that Cruz, a 47-year-old concierge and father of four, had served seven years of an 11-year-sentence for kidnapping and raping a 13-year-old girl in 2000.  Released from prison on parole, he had moved back to the neighbourhood where his teenage victim lived.

The case has reopened the heated debate on how to deal with reoffenders in France – a favourite subject of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who prides himself on his tough stance on law and order.  This week he met Hodeau's family at the Élysée palace.

When, in reaction to the case, a spokesman for Sarkozy's centre-right UMP party called for wider use of chemical castration, an outraged Socialist party spokesman called the idea "deplorable" and "indecent".  But several ministers have now suggested a discussion on broadening the use of chemical castration....

Chemical castration is a reversible process in which the administration of drugs or injections lowers the sex drive. France, along with a number of other European countries including Sweden and Denmark, already allows the procedure if offenders agree to it. Poland last month approved a law making chemical castration mandatory for some offenders convicted of sex crimes against children. Several US states enforce similar measures.

"Chemical castration exists today, it just depends on an agreement by the person concerned," Fillon said. "We have to look at how, as part of surveillance and control measures after someone leaves prison, we might make this more restrictive, if necessary. It's a subject we are working on and we will make proposals to parliament."

Sarkozy called for the closer supervision of paroled prisoners and a review of France's criminal psychiatry system. But magistrates unions protested after the interior minister blamed the jogger's murder on lenient judges and parole officers.

It is notable and telling, in a European kind of way, that this case is not leading to calls for the return of the death penalty.  It is also disappointing, as I have noted in many prior posts, that there seems to be little or no serious empirical evidence about the efficacy of chemical castration even though this alternative punishment seems to have a significant modern history.

Some related recent posts:

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Comments

These shots can make a big difference on an individual basis. Many parolees demand them, and get agitated if one is missed. There are small studies showing benefit. The greater priority should be placed on on-off experiments in the individual. If these help the person, and the person demands it, it should be used.

These shots should be tools made available to the parolee. It is the parolee that should request them, and show up for every shot, perhaps as a condition of parole. There is empirical evidence that the availability of mood stabilizers, medications for ADHD, and tranquilizers will lower incidents prison wide. Adequate treatment for ADHD cuts the relapse into drug abuse in half on the outside (no large controlled, experimental data on that).

All share a simple effect. They reduce impulsivity. They lengthen the time to consider the consequences of an act. Period. They do not improve judgment, reduce selfishness, not teach anyone how to treat others.

The criminal has better control over his behavior. Punishment, with its parameters, is part of treatment and has good influence on criminal decision making. The parameters of punishment include the certainty, the harshness, and meaningfulness (being put in solitary is not punishment for someone who likes isolation).

Such complexity can be easily avoided. 123D, and you are one innocent jogger ahead.

**********

Speaking of counting, after conviction, waterboarding or other harmless enhanced interrogation methods, should be permitted as a useful activity in a prison. The prisoner should be forced to reveal all other crimes he committed or knows about. The information would be used to solve crime, and could not be used to incriminate the waterboardee. All reports should be verified with physical evidence. Once corroborated, the revelation and its physical evidence should be admissible in the trials of other. Leisure time in prison can be better used in this productive manner.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 3, 2009 9:59:26 AM

"It is notable and telling, in a European kind of way, that this case is not leading to calls for the return of the death penalty."

You can say that again.

I am opposed to castration by any means because it strikes me as barbaric. I concede that that is a subjective assessment, but it seems like such a gross intrusion into the criminal's dignity and bodily integrity.

This is in fact a case warranting the DP. How many cracks is society going to give this guy? Who actually paid the price for the earlier decision to parole -- the airheads who made it or an innocent woman whose final moments must have been horrible beyond words?

To those who would say that the DP is itself barbaric, I would point out that it was approved of against Eighth Amendment challenges by, among many other judges, Sandra Day O'Connor, Lewis Powell and Felix Frankfurter. It was, in addition, not mere approved of but used by Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Dwight Eisenhower, and William Jefferson Clinton.

Anyone claiming to be more morally insightful that all these people has a heavy burden of illustrating how.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 3, 2009 11:07:55 AM

The thing about Europe is not just that there is a political consensus against the death penalty. Also:

(1) Almost every country has ratified Protocol 6 of European Convention on Human Rights, which forbids executions in peace time.
(2) Abolition is a condition of membership of the European Union, so if a country like France reintroduced it they would theoretically have to leave the EU.

These facts effectively take the death penalty off of the table as a domestic policy option.

Posted by: Anonymous | Oct 3, 2009 11:43:54 AM

Bill,

You think chemical catration, which is reversible, is barbaric but killing isn't? You think that chemical castration (again, reversible) is "a gross intrusion into the criminal's dignity and bodily integrity," but killing him isn't?

I'm confused.

Posted by: DEJ | Oct 3, 2009 1:23:45 PM

DEJ --

I acknowledged up front that my view of castration is subjective. Whether that alleviates your "confusion," I don't know.

I also said that the supposedly "barbaric" death penalty was approved by Sandra Day O'Connor, Lewis Powell and Felix Frankfurter, among many other Supreme Court Justices. In addition, it was both approved AND USED by Abraham Lincoln, FDR, Eisenhower and Clinton.

Are those people barbarians? Do you maintain that you are more morally enlightend than they? I'm confused.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 3, 2009 1:47:57 PM

Bill: an offender demands chemical castration because it makes a huge difference in his ability to control himself, improve his life, and stay safe to be on the outside. You would deny such a person his demand? How about any psychiatric medication that achieves equivalent toning down of impulses?

You are also implying that a more feminized state, again voluntarily demanded by the offender, is an inferior state. It is not, unless you believe having the testosterone level of a female is inferior. These offenders still enjoy sex, but at a less frenetic, driven pace. Their girlfriends are good enough. They no longer need to slit someone's throat, and they can pass by a kid without pouncing.

These are tools. They work for some people. Like other tools, the person must pick them up voluntarily, and use them for them to work.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 3, 2009 1:55:39 PM

European prohibition on the death penalty is from 1) sheepishness from a 2000 year history of mass slaughter for political power; 2) the rent seeking aims of their big governments promoted by keeping the offender alive; 3) crime victims promoting no big government interest and they may rot. They have a death penalty in the form of murder of innocent victims. Their crime victimizations statistics are also suspicious since the police throws out from building people reporting rape and other serious crimes. They just refuse to record these. They do not have the civil rights litigation against the police that we have in the US.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 3, 2009 2:00:54 PM

If chemical castration (a procedure that is REVERSIBLE, and temporarily makes the person less fertile, lowering the sex drive) is barbaric and against the person's dignity and bodily integrity, then how is killing the person not as well? That's my confusion. On a scale of morality and intrusion into a person's dignity, the former seems less sever than the latter. That's my confusion. (And your fallacious quasi-appeal to authority does nothing to persuade me (and likely others)).

Posted by: DEJ | Oct 3, 2009 2:15:44 PM

I'll add to DEJ's expression of confusion, Bill. Do you think requiring the mentally ill to take certain meds to be a "gross intrusion into the criminal's dignity and bodily integrity?" That's all that chemical castration essentially involves (and often it can be offered as a choice to a long prison term).

The big irony in your view is that courts have upheld forcibly medicating the mentally ill so that they are sane enough to execute -- and your position seems to suggest that it is the forcible medication, not the subsequent killing, that is "barbaric" and a "gross intrusion into the criminal's dignity and bodily integrity?"

In trying to understand your unusuual position here, Bill, I cannot help but wonder if a bit of gender bias is creeping in. I wonder if just the fact that you are a man that leads to your admittedly subjective judgment here. I raise this point to suggest a reason for you to have a new affinity for our newest Justice: perhaps we have just discovered a setting in which a wise Latina clearly would make a better judge than an white guy like you, Bill.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 3, 2009 3:13:13 PM

First, the idea that chemical castration is reversible is nonsense. It's a treatment that can be physically stopped. There isn't enough data on it to know the long term psychological ramifications. People can go cold turkey off addictive narcotics too. But they never go back to the way they were before.

Second, SC's notion that it's a procedure the parolee wants is somewhat fanciful. When the entire state is looking on, it's a little bit obtuse to claim that the decision is voluntary. SC is right that it's a tool, normally a tool to get the state off the offender's back; that's why they agree to it.

My objection is in line with DOug's. There simply is no evidence that it works. As for the subjective evidence that SC raises I think there are too many confounding factors to draw any generalizations. I am not a big believer in the idea that we give a drug to someone just because it makes them feel better. It's that damn medical attitude that has caused so many germs to become immune to traditional antibiotics.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 3, 2009 3:39:49 PM

Doug --

"I'll add to DEJ's expression of confusion, Bill. Do you think requiring the mentally ill to take certain meds to be a 'gross intrusion into the criminal's dignity and bodily integrity?'"

Yes I do, and in the USAO a many years ago I declined to take a case in which the government argued for just that. (A colleague took the case and won).

I also think that drawing-and-quartering is barbaric and that lethal injection isn't. Maybe this also creates "confusion," but like most normal people I can distinguish between things that are sadistic grotesque and things that aren't. I strongly suspect you can too.

"In trying to understand your unusuual position here, Bill, I cannot help but wonder if a bit of gender bias is creeping in. I wonder if just the fact that you are a man that leads to your admittedly subjective judgment here. I raise this point to suggest a reason for you to have a new affinity for our newest Justice: perhaps we have just discovered a setting in which a wise Latina clearly would make a better judge than an white guy like you, Bill."

I am unaware of any opinion in which Justice Sotomayor has approved of castration in any form as a criminal punishment, so it is a good deal less than clear that she would disagree with me on this point. Assuming arguendo that she would, however, I'm surprised to hear from a person usually on the liberal side of things that giving the green light to such a procedure would make Sotomayor a "better judge" than someone who wouldn't. What happened to compassion"? What happened to "hope and change"?

Maybe it's time for me to be confused about how a learned man who makes so many arguments against a standard criminal punishment -- incarceration -- can be so seemingly blase' about a punishment that harkens back to the Dark Ages.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 3, 2009 3:43:53 PM

DEJ --

"[Y]our fallacious quasi-appeal to authority does nothing to persuade me (and likely others)."

ANY argument in favor of the death penalty will do nothing to persuade you, because your mind is closed. You would oppose the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh, and I strongly suspect you did, because the facts of the murder (or mass murder, in his case) are simply irrelevant to you.

However the facts are not irrelevant to me, nor were they to the 80% of your fellow citizens who approved of McVeigh's execution. Indeed, Gallup found that a majority of those normally opposed to the DP on principle approved of it for McVeigh.

What this shows is that many, many people who generally share your view are PRAGMATIC ENOUGH TO LISTEN when the facts are extreme.

But you're not. Why? Are you that much more morally advanced than those around you? Maybe you are, and I'm perfectly willing to listen to the explanation of why you are, but I can scarcely listen to an explanation you won't give.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 3, 2009 4:01:10 PM

On the one hand, I really, really wish these guys would quit giving tough-on-crime lawmakers good excuses. Better to realize they were wrong the first time than to think "Next time I'll kill the witness."

On the other hand, all it will take is one castrated person to commit a heinous crime to send it all back to the drawing board for another way to punish as many as possible because an individual committed another crime.

In the end, after all the experimenting is done, the solution will probably be to punish the individual, not the collective, since any collective solution will never be perfect.

Posted by: George | Oct 3, 2009 7:50:14 PM

Some offenders are remorseful, when impulsive, and free from antisocial personality disorder. Some are so impulsive being in a cage is the sole remedy. A tool that can free them is one of the best deals there is for offender and the taxpayer.

If an offender chooses this medication as a tool, depriving him of its benefits, including greater freedom is appalling arrogance. The medication offends a sensitive, PC, academic somewhere, so the offender may rot in a dungeon.

We have said, the medication gives the offender a few seconds to think. It does not decide. He can reoffend by choice. It makes people more responsible, not less responsible. Impulsivity is not a legally recognized excuse for crime.

Here is a recent review of the subject.

J Consult Clin Psychol. 1995 Oct;63(5):802-9.Click here to read Links
Sexual offender recidivism revisited: a meta-analysis of recent treatment studies.
Hall GC.

Department of Psychology, Kent State University, Ohio 44242-0001, USA.

Meta-analyses were performed on 12 studies of treatment with sexual offenders (N = 1,313). A small, but robust, overall effect size was found for treatment versus comparison conditions (r = .12). The overall recidivism rate for treated sexual offenders was .19 versus .27 for untreated sexual offenders. Treatment effect sizes across studies, however, were heterogeneous. Effect sizes were larger in studies that had higher base rates of recidivism, had follow-up periods longer than 5 years, included outpatients, and involved cognitive-behavioral or hormonal treatments. Cognitive-behavioral (p < .0005) and hormonal treatments (p < .00005) were significantly more effective than behavioral treatments but were not significantly different from each other.

However, if an individual has a strong effect from medication, these group studies are misleading. For the person, the effect is large, and deprivation of medication can be catastrophic for offender and victims. Say, an exhibitionist exposes himself to 10 girls a day, and 5 report it. That is about 2000 police investigations a year. Say, each costs $100, that is $200,000 cost to the taxpayer, a tremendous return on investment if prevented. The offender will never be caught. If caught, he will never be convicted without confessing.

If some expert ever brings up any group study in testimony, please remember the following problem. This is from 11th grade Statistics. The criminal cult indoctrination has erased all of high school in its lawyer victim. The above stats are based on the bell shaped curve. With obedience of the assumptions, it is excellent at finding the proportions in the larger population. The most important assumption is random selection of test subjects. These studies violate it often. So they are inherently garbage. Assume they are valid. Dan, clinical care with a clinician making a decision about a patient is governed by the binomial distribution (like flipping coins). You may not apply parametric statistics bell shaped curve) to a phenomenon governed by binomial statistics. Any expert suggesting applying parametric statistics to a binomial situation, in testimony, should be disqualified as being less competent than an 11th grade high school statistics student.

So if an offender has no exposures on meds, and 10 exposures off meds, and this experiment has happened twice or three time, it is totally irresponsible to deprive the offender of that medication.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 3, 2009 9:39:51 PM

Bill, CHEMICAL castration is a thoroughly modern punishment based on modern pharmacology. I am not sure if it is always or even often effective --- and the lack to serious modern efficacy data is the point I keep stressing --- but I am sure they did not have sophisticated psych meds in the dark ages. Again, as DEJ is trying to highlight, you seem to be reaction only to the term castration and not the term chemical.

In contrast, the death penalty is "a punishment that harkens back to the Dark Ages" and much earlier. Of course, that fact alone does not make it "barbaric" or "sadistic grotesque," although many contend death has no sound place in a modern punishment scheme. The main point is to note peculiar aspects of your claims and positions. (The wise Latina point was meant as a joke in conjunction with my persistent belief that gender issue influence your subject feelings in this setting).

As for incarceration, it is certainly "standard" in modern times, but it is also quite inefficient and largely ineffective as a means of reducing recidivism (except for folks who remain locked up, and even then they can and will commit crimes inside prison walls). Unlike you, I do not seek to indulge my subjective feelings about a punishment, but rather wish data and other evidence to assess that efficiency and efficacy of various punishments. Subjective assertions like "barbaric" or "sadistic grotesque" are feelings, not arguments and one could readily claim that locking a human in a cage against his will is also "barbaric" or "sadistic grotesque," especially if one believes that liberty and freedom and a desire to live free are what allow humans to flourish.

As in many matters, people can and will have different feelings about this punishment and others. You seem eager to indulge such feelings, while I am eager to get data on efficacy rather than have emotion carry the day without evidence.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 3, 2009 10:23:48 PM

SC. What a joke! You can't have a "small but robust" effect. It's just small. And a meta-analysis that looked at just 12 studies? Absolutely meaningless result.

If you are going to base a claim on research, don't base it on rubbish research.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 4, 2009 3:40:59 PM

Bill, data matters. Compare the brewing controversy over the Static-99, which was taken at face value for some time.

SVP industry sneak peek: Problems in Actuaryland.

You psychologists and attorneys working in the trenches of Sexually Violent Predator (SVP) litigation will be interested in the controversy over the Static-99 and its progeny, the Static-2002, that erupted at the annual conference of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) in Dallas.

Posted by: George | Oct 4, 2009 4:05:45 PM

Daniel: Say a medication is not only inferior to placebo, it harms 90% of people who try it. It is poison, and should be banned. However, there is a patient who does well on it, poorly off it. This on-off experiment is repeated three times with the same result. For that person, the medication is 100% effective and safe. That person's response is governed by the binomial distribution (like coin tosses). The group statistics showing it is ineffective and harms most people cannot be applied to that one person. Depriving the person is not only unfair, it is junk science (the wrong application of a parametric statistic to a binomial situation).

Bottom line as of 2009: Prof. Berman should look at the overall statistics and conclude that there is no clinically meaningful benefit from chemical castration over cognitive therapy (changing ideas and persuasion). If there is, it is small in group comparisons. And both are slightly superior to doing nothing. However, the difference can be large in an individual. That person should get the opportunity to stay on it if proven to make a big difference.

As to cost, Lupron costs $2000. Depoprovera costs $0.40. Guess which should be the only treatment allowed.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 4, 2009 5:26:31 PM

SC. I have to problems with your example.

The first is that assuming the data you present is true I would consider it unethical for anyone to prescribe a drug in the first instance which is 90% likely to be "poison".

The second is that when it come to individuals it's impossible to attribute the change to the drug itself. Even if the drug isn't technically a placebo, it still may be performing a placebo effect in that one individual. They may be getting better not because of the chemical behavior of the drug but because for some mentally idiosyncratic reason they improve on that drug only.

One can make an argument that it doesn't matter why the patient gets better on that specific drug, they just do, and that should be sufficient. I might buy that for a dollar from a clinical perspective. But I would reject the idea that one can therefore generalize from that person's response in any way and that public policy should take note of such idiosyncratic cases in any way.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 4, 2009 6:47:22 PM

BIll. it's a good thing I don't work with SVP. I'd blow my stack. What a bunch of unmitigated garage that instrument is. It's voodoo. Pure and simple, modern voodoo.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 4, 2009 6:49:59 PM

Dan: I admitted the lack of support for chemical castration, which answered Prof. Berman's question. It does not work, if it does, it has a tiny effect. Nevertheless, public policy should support whatever works, given the stakes, especially the hundreds of future victims a year for the individual offender. The public policy is the chattel of the public, and its interest must come first. At 40 cents, depo-provera is OK, even if it serves as a placebo. At $2000, Lupron is not OK.

Your concern applies to all remedies. All remedies, including legal ones have a dose-response curve. At low doses, a remedy does not work. At too high a dose, all remedies are toxic. Take a non-drug remedy, jail. Jail too few, the crime rate is high. Jail too many, oppression results in poverty and intimidation of people.

The lawyer must enter modernity. He must stop just throwing remedies around without pilot testing, and work out, and publish the dose-response curve of every remedy. This lack of empirical testing accounts in part for the failure of the lawyer profession. Perhaps, there is a legal remedy that works best if applied the same to everyone. That is a legislative question.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 4, 2009 8:11:00 PM

Doug --

"Bill, CHEMICAL castration is a thoroughly modern punishment based on modern pharmacology....Again, as DEJ is trying to highlight, you seem to be react[ing] only to the term castration and not the term chemical."

In a discussion of what sorts of things society ought to countenance as punishment, a person who doesn't react to the suggestion of castration ain't paying attention. It may well be true that the proposed method of castration is "thoroughly modern," but so is the hydorgen bomb. Indeed, chemical execution (i.e., lethal injection) is ALSO "thoroughly modern," but this does not dissuade opponents of the DP from slamming it as cruel and unusual. While I do not agree with those arguments as a general matter, no serious person can doubt that the administration of chemicals, whether for execution or castration, MIGHT create significant hazards of pain.

"In contrast, the death penalty is 'a punishment that harkens back to the Dark Ages' and much earlier. Of course, that fact alone does not make it 'barbaric' or 'sadistic grotesque,' although many contend death has no sound place in a modern punishment scheme."

But many more, in this country and around the world, contend otherwise. (Side note: I meant to type it as "sadistic AND grotesque," but I screwed up and left out the "and").

"As for incarceration, it is certainly 'standard' in modern times, but it is also quite inefficient and largely ineffective as a means of reducing recidivism (except for folks who remain locked up, and even then they can and will commit crimes inside prison walls)."

Incarceration is unquestionably effective in reducing recidivism while the prisoner is locked up (although as you note it is not perfectly effective even there), and so far as I know, it is the best we can do in reducing recidivism generally. If there were a more effective method, incarceration assuredly would not be the standard punishment for serious crime across the globe, in widely differing cultures and legal systems. But it is. Is the whole world wrong?

"Unlike you, I do not seek to indulge my subjective feelings about a punishment, but rather wish data and other evidence to assess that efficiency and efficacy of various punishments."

You don't get very far as an Assistant US Attorney indulging your "subjective feelings," which is why I didn't and don't. With all respect, I think your stance here is just a slightly improved version of the current liberal slogan that, unlike these Bush-era troglodytes, we're going to get "smart on crime," when the word "smart" is simply code for being more accommodating to the Democratic-oriented criminal defense bar.

The evidence -- not feelings, evidence -- about what is actually smart in dealing with crime is that, as even Eric Holder admits, the significant increase in incarceration has coincided exactly with a significant decrease in crime (40%, to use his figure).

We tried the rehabilitation model for dealing with crime in the sixties and early seventies, and it was a disaster. Crime skyrocketed. It got so bad the country elected Nixon, pretty much knowing that he was a sleaze, largely because it thought he would be tougher in dealing with crime.

"Subjective assertions like 'barbaric' or 'sadistic [and] grotesque' are feelings, not arguments..."

Why weren't you saying this before? There have been dozens if not hundreds of times on this forum when the DP has been attacked on exactly those gounds, and with exactly that language, but, so far as I can recall, it's only when I criticize the prospect of castration that you have expressed any problem with it. Moreover, I believe you have spoken favorably of compassion, although that too is a feeling, not an argument.

More importantly, the bare distiction between "feelings" and "arguments" is a false dichotomy -- or, if not false, misleading in this context. Arguments are very often based on feelings, and nowhere is this more commonly seen than in discussions about criminal punishment.

"...and one could readily claim that locking a human in a cage against his will is also "barbaric" or "sadistic [and] grotesque..."

QED!

"...especially if one believes that liberty and freedom and a desire to live free are what allow humans to flourish."

No argument there. The probleme is that not all humans are the same; indeed there are gargantuan differences between what some human beings will do with their freedom and what others will. Normal people do indeed flourish when free (which is why I oppose the nanny/administrative/welfare state). But there are some whose freedom comes at a disastrously high price to their fellow creatures, and we are both justified and well-advised to impose significant restraints on the freedom of such people.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 4, 2009 10:51:28 PM

Bill, as often, you jump back and forth between "is" and "ought" claims to serve your purposes. Besides being a weak way to make your points, it highlights flaws in your thinking. For example, you point to world embrace of incarceration to suggest it is an effective way to reduce recidivism, but they you fail to appreciate that I favor inquiry into chemical castration due to a concern that many mistakenly assume incarceration is a more effective that chemical castration in incapacitating sex offenders. (And especially given the high rates of prison rape, prison likely only changes who sex offenders victimize, not recidivism rates.) Your peculiar concern for the risk of sex offenders suffering pain in this context but not in others suggests that there is something else driving your (over)reaction to this possible punishment.

Further, your affinity for global use of incarceration as an effective means of incapacitation undercuts your arguments for the death penalty. As you likely know, fewer and fewer country use the punishment of death, in part because elite world opinion says incarceration is good enough.

The reason I make these points to you, Bill, is because you are obviously a fan of the death penalty and a fan of tough punishments. But when a novel and perhaps effective punishment comes along, you seemed eager to attack it for no clear reason (or for reasons that seem inconsistent with other claims you've made).

Ultimately, you tip your hand by turning this into destructive political slogans --- calling "smart" a liberal word and suggesting "Bush-era troglodytes" knew better. It seems you are still suffering PTSD from time in the political wars, but I hope you realize that I am much more interested in promoting and debating ideas, not politics, in this space.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 5, 2009 9:53:06 AM

Doug --

"[Y]our affinity for global use of incarceration as an effective means of incapacitation undercuts your arguments for the death penalty."

No it doesn't. Incapacitation is only one goal of punishment. There are others, including in particular making the punishment fit the crime. For some murderers -- McVeigh and John Couey, among others who have been discussed here -- a sentence of imprisonment, no matter how long, is not commensurate to the mind-numbing hideousness of the crime. Do you disagree?

"As you likely know, fewer and fewer country use the punishment of death, in part because elite world opinion says incarceration is good enough."

The fact that white world opinion says incarceration is "good enough" doesn't carry much weight with me. First, a number of developed ("elite"?) nations still have it, including, in addition to the USA, Japan and South Korea. Second, most of the rest of the world still has it, including Africa, the Middle East, the subcontinent and Asia. These areas are populated by races that do not predominate in EU countries, but I don't care, nor am I aware of any reason I should care.

"The reason I make these points to you, Bill, is because you are obviously a fan of the death penalty and a fan of tough punishments."

That's because they work. I note that you don't dispute that when the rehabilitation model of punishment went into remission, and incarceration (and the death penalty) became more widely used, the crime rate dropped an astonishing 40%.

"But when a novel and perhaps effective punishment comes along [chemical castration], you seemed eager to attack it for no clear reason (or for reasons that seem inconsistent with other claims you've made)."

I have significant doubts about it, you bet. It's not mutilation (or at least it isn't if it works as advertised), but it's a stand-in for mutilation, and it gives me the creeps.

"Ultimately, you tip your hand by turning this into destructive political slogans --- calling 'smart' a liberal word and suggesting 'Bush-era troglodytes' knew better."

Right accusation, wrong defendant. I'm not the one who came up with the political slogan "smart on crime." Nor do I think that particular liberal slogan is "destructive." I do think it has the defect of most slogans, to wit, it pretends to say something while skipping over the needed analysis.

"It seems you are still suffering PTSD from time in the political wars..."

The political wars never stopped, nor do I invoke PTSD, that being a defendant gig for explaining why he knocked over the gas station (or raped the 12 year-old or whatever).

"...but I hope you realize that I am much more interested in promoting and debating ideas, not politics, in this space."

You should take credit for being the sophisticated man your are. There is a strong political and ideological dimension to the debates that go on in this space. (To give you one example, the debate about crack/powder sentencing has plain political overtones, starting but scarcely ending with Chairman Conyers, before whose committee you have testified). This is hardly a bad thing, which is just as well, since it's unavoidable. Sentencing law is, after all, mostly a creature of the political branches. The idea that politics can be kept out of the discussion is somewhere between utopian and wierd.


Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 5, 2009 3:59:57 PM

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