Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

How punishments can be a crime

By Brian Holden - posted Thursday, 4 November 2010

It was on February 3, 1967 that the last execution was carried out in this country. Now the punishment for the most horrific crimes is imprisonment with no parole. This was supposed to make us a less brutish and more civilised society, but has it?

I read somewhere of an early 19th century missionary asking an American Indian why his people mutilated their criminals before killing them. The red man's response went something like: "At least we don't put them in a cage for years like the white man does."

How is the morality of any society to be measured? It has to be measured by the efforts a society makes to minimise the unhappiness within it.


The question this article addresses is what is the most moral way to deal with the psychopathic criminal who needs to be removed permanently from society?

We have only three options for that removal.

The first option is to permanently neutralise the aggression.

The law says that to be evil, you must be rational. If the criminal is judged as being insane he will receive involuntary therapy in an institution for the rest of his life. The heavy sedation so removes one's sense of identity that the victim can even lose interest in complaining about the abuse he may be subjected to.

What makes you human is your mind. Long-term involuntary therapy preserves the physical body but chemically destroys much of what makes the person human. The criminal has had his unhappiness minimised by dehumanising him. This can't be a moral outcome.

The second option is to incarcerate the sane criminal for the term of his natural life.


Science says that a crime is directed by a neural network in the perpetrator's brain, and that this network is hard-wired from birth, not acquired later. We'd rather not think about that.

On top of "bad" DNA there may be other contributing factors. For example,the violent criminal's mother may have abused her own body while pregnant with him and as a result his brain may not have received the nutrition it needed for normal intellectual development. Or perhaps his mother's de facto regularly hit him about the head as an infant.

These neural networks are hardwired through repeated traumatic experiences (just as an alcoholic's has with repeated ingestions of alcohol). But, for us to confine the criminal to an environment that is empty of all that is good in humanity, we need to believe that he freely chose to commit his awful crime.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

32 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Brian Holden has been retired since 1988. He advises that if you can keep physically and mentally active, retirement can be the best time of your life.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Brian Holden

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Brian Holden
Article Tools
Comment 32 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy