Cruel and Unusual Punishment

There seems to be a trend in our justice system to impose additional penalties beyond those specified in the statute for the actual crime committed. These penalties are often claimed to have the purpose of protecting society from future crimes. But it seems a little far-fetched to punish someone in advance for crimes he might commit in the future, which is what some of these penalties amount to. And the severity of the penalties is sometimes extremely drastic.

One of the most controversial examples of this type of legislation are the restrictions on where sex offenders can live. States are passing laws banning convicted sex offenders from living within specified distances of places like schools, parks, etc. Some of the laws have become so restrictive that it’s almost impossible for someone affected by the law to find a place to live at all. This is an open-ended punishment that continues long after the original sentence has been served. There are a lot of studies showing that such laws have little or no beneficial effect, aside from the warm fuzzy feeling obtained by making life hell for someone whose crimes leave little room for sympathy.

But, controversial as they may be, these restrictions may be nowhere near as cruel as another case that recently came to my attention. A criminal convicted of two copyright felonies for illegally distributing a Star Wars movie, who has already served his jail time and been released, is now being forced to use Windows.

The excuse for this cruel and unusual punishment is that his computer use must be monitored as a condition of his probation. The felon has no objection to the monitoring. But the monitoring software used by the authorities doesn’t support any operating system worth using. It only runs on Windows.

I think it’s way past time for our civilization to take a serious look at what kind of cruelty we’re willing to impose in the name of “justice”, which frequently means “revenge”. While it’s admittedly difficult to feel sympathetic to criminals, we need to take a closer look at what we’re becoming. While I can certainly understand the instinctive desire to make someone suffer if he has wronged us, I think that as a society, we need to rise above these base instincts and ensure that punitive action serves some legitimate purpose other than just satisfying a lust for blood. And some forms of punishment are so extreme that they have no place at all in a civilized society, regardless of how heinous the crime. Forcing someone to use Windows is an example of such a totally unacceptable penalty.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *