Lawmaker Suggests Lashings Instead of Prison

There is a serious incarceration problem in this country. Every day more and more actions become crimes and more and more people face becoming a victim of the prison system. Criminal justice experts have offered a wide range of solutions, those that would both ease spending and mitigate the damage we’ve already done by incarcerating more people than any other nation. And while some of these ideas have been controversial and debate-worthy, none have been so off the mark as the suggestion from Montana’s state representative Jerry O’Neil.

Dr. JonesLike many people, O’Neil is disenchanted with the revolving prison doors; he believes long terms of incarceration are “immoral”. His solution: physical punishment.

O’Neil has introduced a bill that would allow people of his state—those convicted of felonies and misdemeanors—to choose corporal punishment in lieu of incarceration. The details have yet to be ironed out.

“Ten years in prison or you could take 20 lashes, perhaps two lashes a year?” O’Neill told the Billings Gazette. “What would you choose?”

O’Neil’s fellow lawmakers are taken aback by his suggestion and there is really no chance of it passing, but the fact that O’Neil thought it a good idea is evidence of the very flaws of the system.

“It’s actually more moral than we do now,” says O’Neil in justifying his bill. “I think it’s immoral to put someone in prison for a long time, to take them away from their family, and force that family to have to go on welfare.”

In some regards, O’Neil is right—physical punishment like a lashing, for instance, would have far fewer familial and community-wide long-term effects. But, this is far from an argument for lashings delivered by the hands of the state, and more an argument for reform overall.

The Montana ACLU says it understands where O’Neil is coming from, at least in part. “We agree with Rep. O’Neil that our state needs to find alternatives to over-incarceration and lengthy jail and prison sentences that are ineffective and costly, but we don’t agree that corporal punishment is the solution,” said their spokesperson Niki Zupanic.

All U.S. prison systems need reform. That’s not an exaggeration; it’s the truth. This incarceration nation is flawed to its core, and while lashings seem a bit extreme, they are no more asinine than private corrections corporations or serving prison time for nonviolent drug offenses. You can’t replace stupid policies with stupid policies and expect anything better than stupid results.


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