While prisons remove criminals from society, they aren’t much of a deterrent for future crimes. I may have a better idea (or, at least, a creative one).
I was touring a colonial era site in South Carolina when I came to the spot at which a jail once stood. Although the building was long gone, the foundations still remained, showing that the jail was about ten feet by ten feet when it was operational.
If you’re familiar with historic sites across America, this is the norm: jails were small, very, very small. I idly wondered aloud if people were more law-abiding back in the day or if the jails were packed in cattle car fashion.
Both were possible said my guide, but the real reason for the small jails was that they were not meant to be places in which people served out their post-trial punishment. Instead, they were merely holding cells before trial. Because long-term prisons are a resource hog (as we well know), the real punishments following a guilty verdict involved anything but jail time: hanging, the stocks, bodily mutilation, whipping, fines, forced military enlistment (a gamble with death), and exile. [Read more…]