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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

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    Yes, but I'm not going for the kind of conflict that marauding bands of exiles would cause. That doesn't fit with the story.

    The kind of conflict that would fit with the story is, character has had a crime committed against them or a loved one, gives evidence against the perpetrator, and has mixed feelings, to say the least, about what ends up happening to the perp. On the one hand, there's a good case that perp deserves their sentence. On the other hand, it's pretty nasty. If you're a decent person, and character is, you probably don't like seeing people suffer, and any kind of punishment sufficient for the crime will mean some heavy suffering. On still another hand, if they made you suffer, you might be getting some satisfaction even if you don't really like it.
     
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  2. Your alternative seems to be having the penal system that you said was not part of the world in the first post. Forced labor/slavery etc- that IS a penal system. Shipping them off to a mine for hard labor is basically the definition of it–
     
  3. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

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    I said there was no prison system, not that there was no penal system.

    And it's not necessarily going to mean shipping them off to the mines. That was just one thought. Maybe the slaves are dispersed more: a few go to serve in one place, a few go to another. These would be places/institutions with a need for laborers and perhaps not enough willing free people to take on the task.

    But then, that raises the question of how to quell violent impulses in people who've already acted on them. What keeps the places where slave laborers are employed from falling into chaos?
     
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  4. LAG

    LAG Minstrel

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    Send criminals to a far-off island filled with dangerous fauna.
     
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  5. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    Some years back I had a short story published called "Accelerated Justice."

    In that story, convicted criminals were injected with a serum that degraded their DNA, aging them over a short period of time (40 times faster). The serum injected would be enough to reflect the sentence they earned. So a 10 year sentence, a person would age 10 years in a matter of months. There was prison for the very violent. But the aging would represent the years that would've been spent in prison, and it happens in public, so people see it happening. My story focused on a man wrongly convicted and caught up in the amoral justice system.

    Maybe something along those lines would work.
     
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  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Penal colony. Siberian labor camps. Devil's Island. Australia. There are lots of examples of this.

    Mere exile can create problems. One need only look at 15thc Italy for examples of exiled (important, powerful) people exiled only to form factions in a neighboring city. Or Napoleon on Elba. Then again, Napoleon on St Helena.

    For something non-historical, you might consider a hex. A state-sponsored wizard does some sort of magical branding. Maybe the victim must always state their crime when meeting anyone new. Or there's a magical version of a GPS anklet. Or really whatever will serve your story. The spell works for a certain number of days, after while it vanishes.
     
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  7. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

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    Those are excellent questions, and I've really been thinking that one over!

    Ecological balance is considered important in this society, and no one disputes that. The main reason building code violations happen sometimes is because some people disagree on where the lines should really be drawn. (The codes are not so onerous and arcane that they'd be reasonably difficult to follow; if you're not following them, it's not that you couldn't, and it's not that you didn't understand, it's that you chose not to.) But even those people don't think there's no need at all for maintaining ecological balance, they just don't see why what they want to do would upset it.

    In some segments of society, there's a little bit of the "don't tread on me" attitude, but overall, they don't really have an American view of personal freedom. That's not to say freedom isn't valued, but it isn't seen in such a thoroughly individualistic way. People tend to be very keenly aware of how their personal freedom depends on circumstances, choices made by others, choices made by themselves, the needs of others, the duties they owe, all of that.

    Rights, I think, would be addressed in a way similar to Jewish law: it's people without power who have rights. Jewish law lays out rights for women, children, and slaves, because they're considered to be under someone else's control. Free men have responsibilities instead: they're not in much danger of having their rights infringed upon, what they need is to handle the power they have, relative to others, responsibly.

    In my imagined society, adults of both sexes have more or less equal rights and responsibilities. Exactly what responsibilities they have may vary a bit, but the overall effect is fairly egalitarian. Children get certain protections--rights--because of their more vulnerable status. The same would be considered in relationships involving an imbalance of power. Apprentices have certain rights, for example, and the master/teacher of an apprentice has their duties and responsibilities towards the apprentice spelled out. That's a case of a relationship that is unequal because of relative status, one is largely under the control of the other (although the goal of apprenticeship is to ultimately make the apprentice a master in their own right; it's not permanent inequality).

    Employer/employee relations, similar, although if the status difference isn't as great, there isn't as much difference in rights and responsibilities. Legislators, law enforcers, magistrates, etc. have the greatest responsibilities, and would be held to somewhat higher standards than everyone else, because they have the greatest power.

    The most heinous crimes are those involving violence against people. Property crimes are lesser offenses. Even something like breaking building codes isn't nearly as serious an offense as hurting another person. So, that says they value human life and bodily integrity especially highly.

    Abuse of power is also something that would be treated very seriously. If you're in a position of power and you abuse it, you've broken one of the highest laws there is.

    So, I think what's really valued here is right relationships. Interpersonal balance. Responsibility.
     
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  8. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

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    Indeed there are. But there are some key differences with those historical examples. They were used against political dissidents and petty criminals at least as often, and in some cases more often, than against violent criminals who had really hurt someone. Almost all of the convicts sent to Australia were desperately poor folks convicted of survival crimes. Sure, a society could have that punishment and reserve it for people convicted of violent crimes, while being more lenient with petty criminals, but then what would happen in a penal colony where everyone is there because they were willing to use violence in the first place?

    Exactly. That's why I don't want to use it here.

    Magic isn't completely out of the question, but I'm not envisioning it as a primary method of punishment (except for magic users, but that's not what I'm playing with at the moment). The majority of the population would not be magic users; if they committed crimes, those crimes would not involve use of magic, and so magic would likely not be a factor in their punishment. (Magic users have a high standard of conduct for themselves and handle disciplinary matters internally; they could face harsher punishments than civilians, but that would be under their own law, not mundane law. Similar to the military: soldiers can be subject to court martial and internal military discipline, but civilians can't.)
     
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  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >what would happen in a penal colony where everyone is there because they were willing to use violence in the first place?
    There's a higher incidence of violence. The only question there is, what would be the implications for your story.

    It's worth noting that even in places of exile (except for exiling an individual), prisons still pop up. Whether it's the box (Cool Hand Luke) or an actual prison, there is, in every case I can think of, some place of confinement in the place of exile. Used for discipline and punishment.

    I'm not sure we really get away from confinement, though one could posit a society without a prison *system*. Various SF stories come to mind there, where people are exiled to the wastelands. Nobody gets shut in, they get shut out.

    Ooh, not for this story, but in a world with place-based magic, exiling a wizard could make for a good story. The wizard can't use magic until they can get back to a magical place.
     
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  10. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

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    Probably not much, because it doesn't include any inside views of penal colonies (if I decide to use them). The viewpoint characters don't get enslaved or exiled. They do deal, on a couple of occasions, with serious crimes by others and the decision as to what to do with them. At most, they might witness a judicial flogging or give evidence at a trial knowing it's probably going to result in the defendant getting the harshest non-capital punishment.

    But I think these characters really would grapple with the implications of what's going to happen to the defendant in the long run, and what's going to ensue from that. If he's going to a violent penal colony, there's little if any hope that he'll reform (although it was never guaranteed he'd reform in the first place) and an excellent chance that he'll emerge from it a more hardened criminal (if he doesn't die there).

    That could simply be one of the conflicts the story is built on, of course.
     
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  11. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

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    The Roman Empire didn't really have a prison system. They did have a few prisons, but those were just for holding the accused until trial and the convicted until their punishments could be carried out. Prison was not a punishment in and of itself, at least not officially. They sometimes did make convicts slaves and send them to dangerous places like the mines.

    I love that idea! But it's for another story.
     
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  12. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Outlawry was a thing for a long, long time. When someone was sentenced to outlawry, the laws of the land no longer covered them. No one would be punished for robbing, assaulting, murdering, or--depending on how your society works--even enslaving them. This was a huge deal. We don't think about it today in our world where We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident and all that, but back then? Pretty much a death sentence. They couldn't own property, not so much as a horse or a set of clothes. They'd be forced to flee their town or city, and if any other outlaws found them when they were out there, the sky was the limit of what they'd endure. They'd have no recourse in the legal system, either, once other outlaws got hold of them. The outlaws wouldn't technically be breaking any laws by doing any of it.
     
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  13. But they also executed tons of people which you say your world would not. You could simply say that people in the fantasy world don't commit many crimes.. perhaps more inherently 'good' than humans we know and are.
     
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  14. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

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    I don't think they're inherently better than us. Way I see it, the reason there's so little crime is the same reason small towns have much less crime than big cities: there's no getting away with it when you're virtually guaranteed to be seen by someone who knows who you are.

    The Roman Empire executed people mainly for things like treason and insurrection. Those are problems any big empire faces when they've conquered a bunch of different peoples and they're trying to keep everyone under control. And they had issues like, you know, some faction or other always wanting to kill the emperor and put their guy on the throne.

    My story deals with people who are not being colonized and have no involvement in the politics of building and maintaining an empire. No motive for insurrection, no dealings with treason. Any crime that happens is personal crime. It's not at all unrealistic that there wouldn't be much of it in a world where communities tend to be small and close knit, and what social systems there are more or less work (not much of a wealth disparity, which has also been known in a number of societies), but it probably is unrealistic to think it would never happen at all. Because people are not inherently more good than the humans we know and are.
     
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  15. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

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    It could be a DIY punishment. AS in people may decide to become their own law enforcement. There are usually authorities, even if not offical ones. A lynch mob could hang you, stone you or beat you. Just because there is no prison as we know it doesn't mean each secrion of a city or town doesn't have it's own confinement. Here an old well system was used to throw criminals down. If they survived the fall they normally broke something. They'd either be left to die and the body removed when they were or be left down a certain number of days. We have records of this in our city museum.
     
  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >Any crime that happens is personal crime
    In many ways this is the most difficult to handle, for it leads readily to vendetta. As you probably know, self-help was fundamental to Roman society (and to many others). This can work if all in the society share pretty much the same values, but starts to come apart at the seams in a more heterogeneous society.

    I'd say you have plenty of room to innovate.
     
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  17. Rosemary Tea

    Rosemary Tea Troubadour

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    Indeed, I'm playing with that, too. Particularly the kind of vendetta that could ensue from law and order justice while staying just on the right side of the law. As in, Person 1 commits a serious crime and gets sent up for it (whatever sent up means). Person 2 and Person 3 testified against Person 1. Now Person 1's relatives have it in for Person 2 and Person 3, and probably for their relatives, too. But they're going to go about it more sneakily, keeping it legal. Nasty gossip, hounding people out, retaliation in kind... and next thing you know, most of the other people in town are taking sides. Even if all they do is participate in the gossip, they're still supporting one faction or the other.

    Or, the whole town is shocked and horrified at what Person 1 did and reacts by shaming and hounding their remaining family out of town. Which is probably what would happen more often, if the villages are pretty cohesive. The shamed family members could potentially make a new start somewhere else, if they go far enough, but they're essentially branded in their own community. Or maybe they can recover some face by very publicly denouncing and disowning Person 1.
     
  18. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    That's kind of how it works in many countries that still follow the "Roman" Law. Person 2 and 3 must offer testimony against person 1 for the crime to be punished.If you combine that with a sort of relaxed constabulary, the normal person wouldn't be affected too much by their presence, since they would only be needed when a crime is commited or if they see it happen first-hand.
     
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  19. D. Gray Warrior

    D. Gray Warrior Troubadour

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    Don't quote me on this, since it's been awhile since I researched it, but I think the Icelandic Commonwealth had a form of exile as punishment.

    Maybe as a variation of that, the criminal gets kicked out of the village, and can only be allowed back if he successfully reforms and makes some reparations. If he does it a second time, the he's exiled permanently.
     
  20. Saigonnus

    Saigonnus Auror

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    Magical Binding... a la "A Clockwork Orange"... the person is bound magically so they cannot commit violence, even in defense of their own life.
     
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