I'd like to have a discussion about the social aspect of punishment. By which I mean, how society should treat/punish individuals who commit crimes. There are two ways in which I think societal punishment is most obvious, employment (firing or not hiring) and the internet (you are forever tied to the google result for your name being the crime you committed/"right to be forgotten").
But first I want to mention a few things to help define this discussion. One, there are basically two levels of conviction. One is criminal conviction (held to the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt), and the other is something I will call "social conviction", by which I mean the level at which society thinks you are guilty but can't prove it (no defined or commonly held standard). I want to talk about the appropriate punishment for both cases, but I do NOT want to talk about how to determine if
someone is guilty.
For the purposes of this thread I would like to propose that we ignore how we decide if someone is guilty in the case of social conviction. It is a thread unto itself. Instead let's just assume that whatever method you would propose, 1% of all people that are determined to be guilty (social conviction) will actually be innocent. That is to say, because social conviction by necessity has a lower bar to clear than criminal conviction, we will likely have more innocents who are determined to be guilty, and we should consider those innocents, but in the context that the guilty are a far larger portion of the socially convicted than the innocents.
To get back to the topic of social punishment, lets start with employment. This covers not only being fired for committing a crime (even if that crime was not committed at work and does not pertain to anything related to work), but also being hired after having been convicted (either criminally or socially) of a crime. The question is then, when should it be ok or encouraged to fire someone for committing a crime, and when should it be ok or encouraged to not hire someone who has committed a crime. Just a few of my own thoughts to start:
- I think that most people would agree that, for almost any crime, the punishment of never being able to work anywhere again is too harsh. Criminals must be able to get work for them to continue to be a functioning part of society. I also think that the viewpoint of "I believe criminals should be able to get jobs, but I would never hire someone accused of sexual harassment, for any job" is incompatible. It's a freeloader problem. I want criminals to get jobs, just not working with me, preferably the should work at some shitty job (cause it's not like that also punishes the other non-criminals who already work at that shitty job). That doesn't mean that employment (firing or refusing to hire) can never be a punishment, but it does mean that when it is, it needs to be more thought through than blanket statements, and sometimes it will mean that we should all be willing to work with someone who has done something bad.
- Relating to the first point, I would say any job that is public facing should be a job that is open for punishment (and I would be very strict in defining a public facing job). So jobs like CEO, professional athlete, movie star, high level government employee (think SCOTUS) etc. There is no way to separate the business/product/brand, from the people in those jobs, so it is totally reasonable to say people socially convicted should be ousted from those jobs and never rehired to jobs like that.
- I think all other jobs should come with some level of legal protection that says you can not discriminate against someone who was socially or criminally convicted if it is reasonable to assume their past transgressions would not affect their work. This will have caveats abounding, but I think it at least starts to define my position here.
The second form of social punishment is related to "the right to be forgotten." That is, in the age of the internet, peoples transgressions are tied to them forever. This is, unequivocally, a punishment. Are there cases where we should allow people who have been socially or criminally convicted, the ability to erase their past transgressions from the public knowledge-base?RadioLab
, did a podcast about the "right to be forgotten", in which they talked about how a Cleveland newspaper had started a practice where people could submit requests to have stories about them taken down, not because they were false, but because they just wanted that part of their past to be forgotten. As a jumping off point for this discussion I will just include some details about one of the people who submitted a request:
- They were convicted (and plead guilty) to flashing two women.
- They served time in jail and had not repeated the offense for many years (5 or 10 I think).
- The very first google result for their name was the story about their crime.
- Because of the above point, they couldn't get jobs almost anywhere, their kids were harassed at school a lot, they had a hard time going out and doing anything fun for fear of social rejection.
- I believe (could be wrong here), that the women who were flashed specifically wanted the story to remain up, and they felt it helped them cope with what happened.
For both types of punishment there will likely be differences in what should happen based on whether you are criminally convicted and serve time, or if you are socially convicted and have received little to no other punishment. I didn't really talk about that above, but it is something to keep in mind.
There's lots more here to unpack, but that is probably a fine starting point.