Re: Is the death penalty Extropian?

Michael Lorrey (
Mon, 30 Nov 1998 14:31:58 -0500

Charlie Stross wrote:

> On Mon, Nov 30, 1998 at 11:02:00AM -0500, John Clark wrote:
> >
> > By the way, I have no problem with capital punishment (if it is painless)
> I do.
> I live in the UK. The UK abolished the death penalty about thirty years ago,
> replacing it with mandatory life imprisonment (with sentences served averaging
> over twenty years and some prisoners banged up for the rest of their life).
> Over the past thirty years, something like 10-15% of all life sentences for
> murder have been overturned as unsafe and unsound. Under the previous regime
> these people would have been hanged.
> However, the recidivism rate for murderers released on license from a life
> sentence is vanishingly small -- less than 0.2%.

Unfortunately it is the opposite here. less than 1% of the population here causes 90% of all crime. Prison officials that tout the new 'boot camp' style rehab facilites are happy if their recidivism rate is ONLY 30%. Normal recidivism ranges between 60-90% for all violent crimes. I'm increasingly of the opinion that the two main reasons crime in the US is so high because we have historically gotten the refuse, the square pegs and criminal leavings from other countries, and with our large amount of multicultural intermixing we are seeing the result of a hybrid vigor effect. We have huge technological and intellectual development despite a poor quality education system, as well as a large amount of sociopathic and psychopathic recidivism.

> If the UK had retained hanging, something like 50-100 innocent people
> would have been executed over the past 30 years, as compared to a much
> smaller number of innocent people being murdered by recidivists released
> on license. Conclusion: capital punishment kills more innocent people than
> it saves, if your main criterion for penal efficacy is prevention. (We
> can discount the deterrent argument -- studies as long ago as the 1860's
> proved that it wasn't a factor in the British penal system.)
> Of course, if you have a penal system that releases murderers imprisoned
> for life on parole after six or seven years, you will get different figures
> out of the other end. But a properly enforced life sentence seems to work
> as a preventative without causing irreversible miscarriages of justice.

True. A 65 year old man released after a real life sentence is much less likely to commit violent crimes than a 25 year old released after 3-7 years. However, are we willing to pay the cost?

COnsidering that keeping a man in prison costs an average of $60,000 a year, we could save a lot of money by filtering out the personalities least likely to recommit and give them a government job and live under house arrest.

I've always liked Heinlein's Coventry concept, of having a very large area fenced off, allowing the criminals put there permanently to build their own society, which can be traded with, but nobody is allowed to leave. I will say that many people who live in the rural areas here look at big cities as already fulfilling that function, since the government makes it difficult for the criminal classes to move to other jurisdictions. Note that if crime in rural America were only counted, it would be lower than any other industrial nation. Since the majority of manufacturing in the US now occurs in suburban and rural areas, this is more accurate, to count the urban vs non-urban crime rates. I don't know how many times people have commented to me after a trip to an urban center about the similarities to cities in a 3rd world nation....

> (If/when Alcor and friends can demonstrate the ability to revive
> people who've been frozen, I will change my opinion on the death penalty;
> but until someone comes up with a reversible implementation, I will object
> on the fundamental basis that the administration of justice is not perfect
> and it is in utilitarian terms better not to use the death penalty. I have
> lesser objections -- based on the point that the death penalty is exercised
> by the state, and I don't think the state should have the power of life or
> death over its citizens, but that's an opinion, rather than an objection
> based on hard numbers.)
> -- Charlie