I've written about alternatives to imprisonment several times over the past... 14 years. Wow.

Now Ross Douthat is asking similar questions: why should imprisonment be our only official form of punishment?

Our prison system, which officially only punishes by restraint, actually subjects millions of Americans to waves of informal physical abuse -- mistreatment by guards, violence from inmates, the tortures of solitary confinement, the trauma of rape -- on top of their formal yearslong sentences.

It is not clear that this method of dealing with crime succeeds at avoiding cruel and unusual punishment so much as it avoids making anyone outside the prison system see it. Nor is it clear that a different system, with a sometimes more old-fashioned set of penalties, would necessarily be more inhumane. ...

We tell ourselves that we have prisoners' good in mind, and the higher standards of our civilization, because we do not offer them this choice. But those standards may be less about preventing ourselves from becoming like our sinful ancestors, and more about maintaining the illusion of clean hands -- while harsh punishment is still imposed, but out of sight, on souls and bodies not our own.

If given the choice, I'd rather face pain and humiliation than years in prison... and it seems like such punishment would be better for my mental and physical health as well, not to mention that of my family. I agree with Douthat that "civilized" imprisonment is more for the benefit of a society that doesn't want to think about punishment than for the protection of society or the benefit of convicts.

(HT: Instapundit.)

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