1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

No Prisons, No Death Penalty: How would they deal with serious crime?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Rosemary Tea, Feb 28, 2021.

  1. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

    167
    132
    43
    Opening up this discussion to see what people think, in a world building context. I'm moving toward working this into my own world building, but feel free to apply it to your own, even if different from mine.

    I'm imagining a world where there's no such thing as a prison system, and the death penalty is either nonexistent or extremely rare. That doesn't mean no punishment for crime, but most of the people in this world live in fairly close knit villages or small cities (of a size that would be a small town by our standards). The nature of daily life means people are almost always where they'll be seen by others, and the little bit of time when they're not is usually not enough to commit a crime and have any chance of getting away with it. So, there isn't much crime to deal with.

    That doesn't mean no crime at all. People sometimes commit infractions, like digging a well without following proper procedure (there are land use and building codes, for reasons having to do with ecological balance and how they're maintaining it). Those draw fines. And some people are foolish enough to try something like theft or vandalism. That kind of crime, which makes up almost all of the actual crimes committed, is typically punished with a public flogging and financial restitution.

    The role of the law is to punish more than to rehabilitate, although punishment is designed to leave a lot of room for rehabilitation. When a convict has taken their licks and paid what they owe, they're free and clear. There will be some social stigma following them around after that, but it probably won't prevent them from getting their life back on track. It's not quite the barrier a criminal record in our society is.

    The way I'm imagining it for now, there's a death penalty on the books, but only for premeditated murder. That virtually never happens, so in practice, there is no death penalty. But that leaves the question of what to do with people who commit crimes that are very serious but not capital offenses: rape, non-premeditated murder, assault, things like that. Those crimes may be rare, but they aren't non-existent.

    With no prisons, they can't be locked up. With no death penalty (for all practical purposes) they can't be removed once and for all. So what's to prevent them from doing it again? What would adequately punish their crime (maybe or maybe not with any eye to rehabilitation) while keeping society safe from them?
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  2. exile is pretty common. removal from clan/family and given no resources. often that is basically a death penalty but.
     
    Maxine Carr, Malik and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  3. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

    167
    132
    43
    But if they were exiled, they'd just go cause the same trouble somewhere else. This isn't a society out in the wilderness. It's a very populated world. Exiling someone in that world would be like deporting them from your country in our world. It's not impossible for them to come back, they very well may, and even if they don't, they're still surrounded by people they could harm.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  4. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

    1,210
    463
    83
    Ahahaha, this could be a dangerous topic for me. Too easy to get too political. @[email protected]

    Hm, hmm, well, the first question that occurs to me is whether you want to portray it as some place "good" or somewhat idyllic, as some place that's primarily functional, or as someplace rather crappy.

    Exile, as Joshua mentioned, could work with an option, but there's a different vibe to Dick Dasterdly getting kicked out of the town thanks to our heroes and having him go on a sad wander while he reflects on his actions vs feeding a criminal to the post apocalyptic zombie hordes outside the town.

    Other options might come across as darker.

    If people feel that the law isn't adequately protecting them. Imagine walled family compounds, duels which aren't... always lethal, and blood feuds going back generations.

    Or maybe things are going as intended? The rich and powerful can afford the fines. They can basically do whatever they want. The poor? Whelp, sucks to be them.

    Now, if you want some idyllic then I suggest looking into magical options. Perhaps geas are employed to magically ensure they won't repeat the same behavior?
     
    S.T. Ockenner and Rosemary Tea like this.
  5. branding so every one knows they are a rapist- and shuns them no matter where they go. if people will not give you food, shelter etc... you wont last long. or removal of a hand etc. usually works.
     
    S.T. Ockenner and Rosemary Tea like this.
  6. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

    167
    132
    43
    I'm going for primarily functional. In some ways, this society is better than ours. In other ways, it's probably worse. Overall, the effect is probably similar, it's just that what's good about it and what's bad about it may land in different places.

    I'm not envisioning a very wide gulf between rich and poor, for the most part. Some have more than others, and there are the far distant royals who we never see (the real governing happens at the local level, all royals are good for is tabloid-style gossip at their exploits, as far as the common people are concerned--think Kardashians), but pretty much everyone considers themselves part of the wide middle class.

    And social mores take care of a lot of it. Dig a well without following procedure? You're probably not going to do it again after being fined for it, but the fine's not going to ruin you, either. There's only so much you can flout the law before your neighbors start giving you hell for it, and that's what really counts.

    Dick Dastardly getting kicked out of town thanks to the heroes is more the kind of vibe I'm going for, only the Dick Dastardlys in my imagined world can't be counted on to just go on a sad wander. More likely, Dick is going to go be dastardly in another town. And if all the Dick Dastardlys are getting kicked out of their towns to wander, they're probably going to meet up, band together, and cause real trouble. I'm looking for a system that's going to more or less stop them from doing that. But not feed them to the zombies, that would be capital punishment, which they didn't incur.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  7. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

    167
    132
    43
    I thought of that. It would work in some kinds of world building, but I'm not sure if that's what they'd do in the one I'm building. Still thinking....
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  8. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

    167
    132
    43
    One of my ideas is that they have a form of penal servitude. Serious but non-capital crimes draw a sentence of x many years as a slave. (Other than that, slavery is illegal. Once it existed in more forms, but there were reforms a few centuries back...)

    I suppose if the convicts were sent to do dangerous jobs, like mining or rowing a galley, that would keep them out of trouble (or would it? History is full of slave rebellions), and if it were a case of, too bad the law won't let us kill him, he deserves it... then sentence him to ten years someplace where conditions are so harsh that chances are slim he'll live five.

    Now the other question I'm kicking around is, what would that really mean for justice? Deeper question.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  9. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    1,651
    553
    113
    Perhaps a sort of "commune"... they are sent to a farm/community, where they must contribute to society for a period of time as determined by the judge/magistrate or whoever. If there is magic, you could use a sort of "anchor" to keep them from leaving the commune until their time is over. It could be designed that the people overseeing the place teach new skills to the "criminals" in hopes that they will find something other than criminal activity to make money. In effect it is a "prison", but without the whole walls/bars/guards thing. The more a person contributes, the more time gets taken off their sentence for good behavior.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  10. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

    661
    270
    63
    Lobotomy to remove the insurgent part of the brain so the individual cant rebel or disobey?
     
    Saigonnus and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  11. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Sage

    210
    213
    43
    What, exactly, is the individual's relationship with society? In America we are very "hell yeah PERSONAL FREEDOM," so sitting in jail for the rest of your life is the ultimate punishment, as all those freedoms are taken away (slavery is still legal if you're incarcerated, for example, and even if you're released from prison you can still lose the right to vote, to own a gun, to have most types of jobs etc). Meanwhile in Japan, being shamed in front of society as a whole keeps a lot of crimes from even ever happening. The average Japanese person will never touch cannabis because drug use is seen so poorly by society, while the average American is googling if they can buy weed gummies on Amazon. Also, what is their relationship with the world around them? In New Zealand they hold protecting the environment and the native species so highly that they kill feral cats....meanwhile, Americans have made it illegal to kill feral horses (because horses have "souls" and have more rights as a living thing than, say, a cow), even though they are destroying the environment and also cost the government millions a year to keep thousands of unadoptable horses in horse jail. "Living history" is more important than the environment, I guess.

    So in your society, what do people hold dear? If the safety of others is incredibly important, than breaking building codes, driving drunk etc would be unthinkable to the average person. Being shamed and ejected from their community (though not litterally, but from social relationships, like spiritual communities, their job, their friends etc) can do a lot to punish ne'er-do-wells, and the government does'nt even need to get involved! You can also look at ye olden punishments, various "scarlet letters" or pillories people were put through to be embarassed or made a laughing stock. What are the most important rights and freedoms in your society? Is it possible for them to be taken away? Driving isn't a right, its a privilege, and you can lose it from driving unsafely. Freedom of movement, however, is a right, so you could always just walk anywhere, but depending on where you live life is pretty much impossible without a car (so many people drive without a license because they don't have a choice, which creates a terrible feedback loop, but America is very PERSONAL FREEDOM and a car is the pinnnacle of that).
     
    Rosemary Tea and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  12. Toby Johnson

    Toby Johnson Minstrel

    92
    38
    18
    Manual labor, if you're forced to work in somewhere like the farm, Is that prison? or just manual labor as a punishment.
     
    Rosemary Tea and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  13. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Maester

    600
    501
    93
    I think you underestimate the effect of exiling. Especially in the world you describe of close communities and small cities. The exiled person will have no money, no food and no clothes other than what he's wearing. If he shows up in another village people will recognize him for what he is, someone exiled. And with no money, what are you going to do? I've once had the experience to be stuck in a city where I knew no one without any money and I can tell you it's not a pretty place to be in. Unless you're a hardened career criminal you will have worries about how you will feed yourself, where you will sleep and so on. In your world you'll probably end up begging for people to help you. It's not pretty. Especially in small towns and communities where everyone knows everyone else. I would personally consider it one of the worsts punishments you can hand out after a death sentence (when prison is out of the picture).

    Other punishments. The forced labor is a good one. As is eye-for-and-eye type of punishments. You hurt someone illegally? They can beat you. You steal from someone? They can take twice the amount from you. Or punishments like the cutting off of hands for stealing, that sort of thing. Branding is another one, and is similar to exile. You visibly mark someone as a criminal and they will have a hard time in their life because few people will trust them. I think a modern equivalent is people with visible gang tatoo's. They often have a harder time finding jobs for instance because people judge them based on their appearance. It's also very permanent.
     
    Rosemary Tea and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  14. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    481
    292
    63
    For murder the killer could be forced to work for the family of their victims for whatever number of years is the difference between the victim's life expectancy and their age. In other words, if a victim is a 25 year old peasant farmer who would have a life expectancy of 60 years the killer would be forced to work for the farmer's family for 35 years. This was common practice in traditional Samoan culture.

    Castration for sex offenders, exile into remote areas for other serious criminal offenders and branding of minor offenders would also be effective.
     
    Rosemary Tea and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  15. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Sage

    225
    272
    63
    Close knit communities? Hmm. What is likely to happen to the criminal is social shunning, some form of physical punishment or in really nasty cases a lynch mob. The really big risk in communities like that is that those who don't fit in (for whatever reason) may get accused of something they didn't do. In my experience from various places around the world, close knit communities can be some of the worst places for bullying, informal justice and lack of forgiveness. In that sense, exile might be a very welcome option for a convicted criminal.
     
    Rosemary Tea and S.T. Ockenner like this.
  16. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

    1,651
    553
    113
    The problem with exile is if there are enough people, then eventually they could form their own group that subsist on the fringes of civilization by raiding the "law-abiding" communities. With a strong enough leader, this group might even sack whole villages for the resources, take over using the survivors as slave labor.
     
    S.T. Ockenner and Rosemary Tea like this.
  17. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

    167
    132
    43
    That's where I got the idea of penal servitude from. I'd read something about a similar practice, not sure it was Samoa, maybe somewhere else, but that's definitely an idea that's been tried before. My thought is maybe once in the distant past, this was a culture where servitude to the victim, or their family, was a common form of punishment/restitution, but they've moved toward a more centralized and codified justice system, and it's no longer the norm for anyone to have personal servants in any way, shape, or form. So, this servitude would be less personal, maybe in the hands of the state, so to speak.

    I've toyed with the idea that sex offenders would be castrated. Also an idea that's been tried in history.

    Minor offenders in this world would not receive permanent punishment (except loss of face socially), so it doesn't make sense to brand them. Maybe major offenders would get branded.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  18. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

    167
    132
    43
    Exactly. That's why I think exile is probably not such a good idea. Especially considering that the people who would be punished this way are those who've already committed violent acts. What stops them from doing it again? We know they're willing to.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  19. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

    167
    132
    43
    But this level of punishment would only be dealt to someone who's committed a beyond the pale kind of crime, most likely a violent one. Chances are they have a hardened career criminal mentality. Lesser crimes wouldn't draw that kind of sentence.

    The original "eye for an eye" was actually tort law. It wasn't about cutting out someone's eye in retribution, it was about the restitution owed to the victim: offender must pay them the value of an eye. Literally tit for tat isn't really that common in justice systems, I don't think. With the possible exception of cutting off a hand for stealing (although even that has very limited use, in practice), but in my world building, theft isn't considered a kind of offense that requires such permanent punishment. Thieves get whipped, and in a close knit community, everyone's going to remember that, but if the former thief decides to move on, they don't have to show their scars in public.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
  20. well you need some conflict in your story right? Basically every version of a "punishment" code for bad behavior has negative long term consequences- Just pick the consequence that works best for your world and story.
     
    S.T. Ockenner likes this.
Loading...

Share This Page