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Perhaps We Should Let Crime Victims Choose How Perpetrators Are Punished

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The government spends too much taxpayer money on incarceration and carrying out death sentences. And sometimes crime victims would prefer reparations rather than footing the bill for long prison stays.

Today the American justice system is just as bloated and inefficient as every other organ of government bureaucracy.  Only eleven prisoners have been executed in 2017.  That is only a little more than two per month.  With hyper diligent media coverage of every execution like the supposed botched Arkansas executions in April, it is likely that the perceived rate of executions is larger than the actual rate.  Why are so few people executed for murder in the United States?  With all of the media chatter of assault weapons picking themselves up and shooting innocent school children, one would think that a dozen people are put down daily for gun crimes.

In his book The Ethics of Liberty, Murray Rothbard wrote, “All the rights of punishment derive from the victim’s right of self-defense.”   Rothbard is a mainstay of Libertarian philosophy.   He also wrote extensively on the intellectual legitimacy of private justice.  A private justice system seems foreign to most Americans because we are accustomed to allowing the government to direct much of our personal and financial lives.  Rothbard even surmised that a murder victim has the right to determine the punishment of his murderer.  This is actually an ingenious method of determining punishment because it removes the need to spend taxpayer money on sentencing hearings and incarceration in some cases.  The punishment should fit the crime.  

The government ought not force tax payers to pay for punishments that they disagree with morally. It is a violation of conscience to force a pacifist to pay for the death penalty.  Likewise, it is unconscionable to deny the right of another to demand capital punishment for someone who murders him or his family. Now when Joe taxpayer is asked to pony up for a judges, police, and prisons, he may be paying for a political or social goals instead of funding the type of justice he believes in.

What is the current justice system landscape?  In Alabama the federal government has repeatedly threatened to take over the prison system due to overcrowding and other issues.  On Alabama’s death row convicts may wait for 18 years before execution, but thanks to a new bill that passed in 2017 the appeals process has been changed and inmates may now only live anticipating their death for 9 years.  The ability of many states like Ohio to carry out lethal injections is becoming increasing difficult due to a boycott from pharmaceutical providers, who make the necessary drugs for lethal injections.  This supply shortage has reinvigorated the idea of using more traditional methods of capital punishment like hanging, firing squad, and electrocution in some states.  In fact, in 2015 Utah reinstated the use of firing squads as a legitimate method of execution due to the shortage of legal injection drugs.  

It is apparent that the judicial system has issues, which may be addressed with less government.  Allowing victims to demand reparations for crimes instead of forcing taxpayers to foot the bill for years of prison would free up funds and may give leeway to state governments for tax reductions. Why not consider modifying the justice system to include outside the box punishments like victim reparations?

Some may consider private justice a slippery slope to vigilante justice.  Incorporation of minimal private justice reforms may save money and allow for victims to have more freedom to decide on a punishment which is more in line with their own conscience.  A recent report using Bureau of Justice Statistics data showed that Americans spend $80 billion on incarceration each year.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to allow the victims of crimes to exact private justice like reparations instead of the government taking our hard earned money to house, feed, and rarely execute people who may be positively reformed without the use of prison?  

Anson Knowles is the host of the Alabama-based radio program The Anson Knowles Show Live, Local, Liberty Oriented Talk on 92.5FM/770AM WVNN and

Anson Knowles is a radio show host and libertarian political activist from Huntsville, Alabama. He was a 2014 candidate for the Huntsville, Alabama school board and served formerly as the chairman of the Libertarian Party of Madison County, Alabama. His writing has appeared also on, and his radio program takes place each Saturday morning.

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