Monday, March 30, 2015

The Punishment Can't Fit the Crime


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

March 30, 2015


                I have been struck by a wave of proposals in recent weeks to reduce the length, and to drop mandatory minima altogether for federal crimes, to offset the world-leading terms of incarceration US courts impose.  Indeed, length of incarceration is the major distinguishing factor in accounting for what we now call “mass incarceration.”  Yesterday, Scottish criminologist Fergus McNeill sent a proposal to mitigate length of sentence in the UK ( ), inviting response.

                I was moved to look back to a chapter I drafted in a book Paul Jesilow and I first published just 30 years ago, Myths That Cause Crime.  Paul and I donated the images to the American Society of Criminology’s Critical Criminology Division (a free download, thanks to Ken Mentor, at .  Paul drafted the foundational chapters in the book that laid out that laid out the double standard we apply to white-collar crime to street crime, and the biases in theory, measurement, and stereotypes that follows.

                My attention was drawn back to Myth 9 (of 10): “The Punishment Can Fit the Crime.”  It is a short read (pp. 116-126), but to me on re-reading, it more sharply and succinctly accounts for why I abandoned the idea of trying to make punishment work than in all the years I have criticized returning violence with violence since: the inherent absurdity of making the punishment fit the crime, and of claims to deterrent effects of widespread, systematic punishment.  If punishment works, it certainly can’t be because the punishment fits the crime, or because deterrence is working more than episodically, in spite of the punishment itself.  To those who say offenders have to have consequences because nothing works better than punishment, I ask:  Who’s utopian?  Who places blind faith above reason?  Love and peace, hal


A note:  With thanks to Ken Mentor for putting them on the web, I have also donated several other volumes to .  Besides Myths That Cause Crime under the “Articles” tab, they include the late Little Rock Reed’s The American Indian in the White Man’s Prison (an outstanding collection of writings by Native North American prisoners, 1993), and A Criminologist’s Quest for Peace (2001; chap. 1, “Living Criminological with Naked Emperors,” is my critique of COMPSTAT, for instance), where I weave a series of previously published works together), and my first book Crime and Conflict: A Study of Law and Society (1976; essentially an argument for the limits of the rule of law).  All are free downloads, for any use including in the classroom.  L&p

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Arrogance of the US


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

March 20, 2015


                If I were teaching my course on violence and peacemaking today, I would be giving priority to showing and discussing today’s “Democracy Now!” interview with Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño (  Interviewed by Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman, Patiño gave a succinct, plainly spoken lesson on US overthrow of democratic regimes in Latin America and in the IS war zone, to support economic exploitation.  He explains the multinational Latin American call for the US to rescind economic and travel sanctions newly added to US attempts to overthrow the democratically elected government of Venezuela.  He recounts our overthrow of the Iraqi government in 1991, based on a lie that Iraq had “weapons of mass destruction”; when asked he diplomatically acknowledges that control of oil in the region might be an underlying motive for our military history there.

                When asked about the recent International Court of Justice civil arbitration award to Ecuadoran citizens harmed by Chevron’s history of oil dumping, he pointed out that the ruling superseded the agreement made by an undemocratic government that his government represents.  It also departs from  an earlier ruling by a US court in favor of Chevron.

                When asked about the Ecuadoran government’s grant of diplomatic asylum to Wikileaker Julian Assange, and the Swedish government’s decision to send prosecutors to the London embassy to interview Assange before the statute of limitations on sexual assault charges runs out, Patiño welcomes them, noting that he wishes Swedish prosecutors had accepted Ecuador’s invitation to do the interview when the evidence was fresh, rather than waiting 1.000 days to ask for an embassy visit.  He also defended Ecuador’s decision to grant Assange asylum as a protection of free speech, a freedom respected by his government.

I wish all schoolchildren, let alone older students who discuss current events could have a class period to play and discuss this 30-minute segment.  And in my class, I would open discussion with the question:  Why should anyone trust the US to do anything but set up governments that will let us exploit them for US corporate gain?  Love and peace, hal

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

US war policy


Hal Pepinsky,, “pepinsky” at

March 10, 2015


                It is ironic to hear US UN Ambassador Samantha Power berate Europeans for not increasing their military spending just after President Obama’s memorialization of the Selma marchers led by Martin Luther King, Jr., a follower of Gandhian non-violence (on BBC World Service “News Hour,” ).  Power demands a unified, Euro-North American, response to Islamic terrorists worldwide.  Hers is an unqualified call to greater global war, led by the US with whomever we adopt an alliance of convenience.  On the BBC as in the US, we are fed little short of news of an occasional tactical victory against the IS.  Our only principle is that the IS is a land of people whose violence is uncivilized, and hence merit nothing but “degradation and destruction” by bombardment, by which we have achieved a remarkably high kill ratio, thanks to our wealth and technological advancement.  Our moral entitlement to be the superior killer aside, it does everything to confirm that we are a devil of an enemy of unprecedented global proportions, from Ukraine to Afghanistan most of all.  To many no doubt, it just goes to show that we are indeed the Great Satan, and to lend support those who would make us feel the terror and destruction we inflict upon them.  That makes me as an American feel more vulnerable, let alone misrepresented.  The military restraint the Europeans are showing is a tribute to the common defense of those who would shed their image as colonizers, a tribute to their will to make peace rather than war, paired with a priority for domestic public investment.  We ought to be following their lead, not proclaiming ourselves to be the world’s no. 1 public god of death and destruction.  If nothing else, they’re being practical about national security, while we’re giving ourselves cause for more insecurity.  Love and peace, hal

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Who's More Civilized?


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

March 5, 2015


                Today’s “Democracy Now!” segment on the role of the British MI-5 in turning Mohammed Emwazi into the IS executioner, aka Jihahi John, who has beheaded US citizens on video, carried me back to what I learned about differences I found between conceptions of crime and violence in Tanzania and the US when I lived in and around Dar es Salaam for five months in the first half of 1990 (as described in, as I was in my Feb. 23 post on “Violence from on High”—placing IS and US violence side by side.  In the segment, we see Emwazi pronouncing sentence as he carries out an execution.  He calls on President Obama to stop killing people indiscriminately, and pronounces the knife he wields as the IS instrument of payback of the “America” that President Obama represents.  Emwazi does not identify himself, he is hooded.  Outwardly, and I’m sure inwardly, he does his duty to his state, just as staff in execution chambers and drone pilots do theirs in and for the US.  It is also a deterrent:  If you hurt us with your “superior” weapons, we will hurt you by the simpler, more direct means available to us.  This is not an unreasonable calculation:  The US public has limited tolerance for war casualties; we will simply wear them down.  And the seriousness of the victimization in the IS by the US far exceeds the threat used by the US to justify that victimization.  They justify their violence by what we DO.  It is a mark of economic and military privilege and domination that we justify ours by caricaturing who they ARE, as we create the enmity we seek to destroy and degrade.  Love and peace, hal          


Monday, March 2, 2015

beyond confinement for alzheimer's


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

March 2, 2015


                People with dementia often become institutionalized because they wander at night, as my mother was forced to do with my father.  In a culture where we are so predisposed to confinement, today’s NPR program “Here and Now” describes a nighttime community initiative in the Bronx that both relieves primary caregivers and literally brings Alzheimer’s patients to life: .  To borrow my late mother’s term for going into a nursing home, it is a refreshing alternative to “incarceration.”  I hope it catches on.  Love and peace, hal