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In Defense of Flogging Hardcover – May 31, 2011

4 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Randy Cohen, former writer of The New York Times Magazine column “The Ethicist” 
“Peter Moskos presents us with a true dilemma, the dreadful alternatives of prison or flogging. To make that stark and Swiftian choice, he compels us to rethink our ideas of cruel and humane, barbaric and civilized, progressive and reactionary. It is invariably jarring to overcome a prejudice or abandon a dearly held belief—I try to avoid doing either—but Moskos makes it an intriguing, if unsettling, experience.”

Publishers Weekly
“Moskos, an assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who specializes in police and criminal science, debates with the utmost seriousness the merits of flogging as an alternative to incarceration. . . . Indeed, when Moskos mentions the possibility of electric shock as another option, readers will begin to wonder if the writer is poking outlandish fun and crafting a notion similar to Swift’s 1729 classic “A Modest Proposal,” using satire to call attention to the ‘shame’ of our inhumane prison system.”
Bloomberg News
In Defense of Flogging isn’t a joke, a satire or a thought experiment… [Moskos] makes a convincing case…In Defense of Flogging is one of the very few public-policy books I’ve encountered that goes past wringing its hands over a societal problem to offer a viable solution, by which I mean one with a prayer of being put into place because it has appeal across the political spectrum…. At just over 150 pages of clear, smart and highly readable prose, Moskos’s sharp little volume has a potential audience far beyond the experts who dutifully slog through most tomes like this.… I know one thing, though. Given the choice between 10 lashes and five years, I’d take the whip.”

The Daily Beast
“If we’re capable of taking Moskos’ idea as a serious option to incarceration, it could have profound consequences for a nation that incarcerates its citizens at a rate that’s seven times as high as the other nations of the world. Clearly we have to find a way to reduce prison populations, and this just might be a logical one…. In Defense of Flogging forces the reader to confront issues surrounding incarceration that most Americans would prefer not to think about.”

Library Journal
“Moskos’s argument is unconventional and convincing.  Those interested in prison reform will find much to contemplate here.”
Washington Times
“As a former Baltimore City police officer, assistant professor of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Mr. Moskos is not unfamiliar with the legal or criminal aspects of justice. He readily employs this background to describe the ills of today's criminal justice system and his radical alternative. . . . ‘Flogging’ is intriguing, even in – or because of – its shocking premise. As a case against prisons, Mr. Moskos' is airtight.”
“Compelling… Although his outrageous idea may conjure up unsavory reminders of U.S. slavery, by the end of “In Defense of Flogging,” Moskos might just have you convinced.”
Boston Globe, Brainiac
“Well-reasoned… Even if you aren’t convinced that flogging is the future, though, Moskos’ deeper argument is still compelling. The act of punishment, he argues, is inherently strange, uncomfortable, and unsettling; there's a natural impulse to hide it away. Our prison system, though, shows that this is a mistake. . . . Instead of piling on the prison terms, we need to start asking hard questions about the value and meaning of punishment. Until then, we'll never have a sensible prison system.”
The Economist
“Brutal and archaic it [flogging] may be, but Mr Moskos convincingly argues that America’s prison system is at least as inhumane. . . . Mr Moskos’s proposal begins as a provocation and ends bleakly plausible.”


Chicago Sun Times
“An eloquent cry to address a problem that we spend billions of dollars trying to ignore.”

Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker
“[Moskos] doesn’t really want to flog the evil out of prisoners. He wants to flog the indifference out of the rest of us. . . . His provocative book makes many sanely provocative points; it is one I’ve urged on those who want to do more reading on the subject, and I’d urge it again now.”


About the Author

Peter Moskos is an Associate Professor of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the City University of New York's Doctoral Program in Sociology and is a former Baltimore City police officer. He lives in Queens, New York.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 183 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465021484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465021482
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,151,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This ground-breaking book begins the paradigm shift away from expensive, wasteful, centralized, isolated incarceration among the worst of society and towards relatively inexpensive, repeatable, flexible, community corrections that can rapidly provide the benefit of example in public and then return chastened offenders to regular society for rehabilitation. Judicial corporal punishment worked earlier in our history to keep the peace, and not just on slaves. George Washington flogged his largely white troops to win our freedom for us, starting in 1776 and continuing throughout the Revolutionary War. New England Puritans used it extensively. Thomas Jefferson wrote it into a statute. Numerous slaves quoted in the Federal Writers' Project Slave Narratives vouched for its necessity and effectiveness in avoiding incarceration completely while disciplining folks to become safe, polite and hard-working. It's mandated in the Bible. The parents of most successful people practiced it - though bad parents abuse it.

We owe Professor Moskos our thanks for opening the debate that's sure to follow. Readers cannot fully appreciate this book unless they realize what an economic and social disaster we have in American mass incarceration, a topic concerning conservatives, libertarians and liberals. The questions raised and logical arguments made in this book start eroding our misplaced acceptance of the status quo. Rather than merely complain about the prison system, this book proposes a solution and is personable and easy to read.

The book also considers the 7.3 million Americans in the entire correctional population, including those on probation and parole. We are supposed to be the Land of the Free.
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Format: Hardcover
I admit that reading this book in public could prove dangerous to your health, at least based on my experience on the New York city subway system returning home from BookExpo, where I obtained a review copy of this slim volume from its publishers. Glimpsing the title as I skimmed the first few pages, a woman sitting across from me began haranguing me about violence being the problem that makes the city unlivable, and that any book suggesting that we flog our children is just going to make matters worse...

Well, to put matters straight, this book isn't about flogging children. Nor does it have anything at all to do with sexual deviancy (in case anyone is hoping that it does.) Rather, the author -- a former cop and now a professor -- crafted his opus as a semi-serious way to draw attention to his real concern: the fact that not only do prisons not work and cost us a tremendous amount of money, they actually damage society by rendering inmates (most of whom will eventually be released) insane, unemployable and criminal for life. Why, not he suggests (somewhat tongue in cheek) offer convicted people bound for prison the option to exchange their prison sentence for a specified ratio of, say, 1 lash for every two years of jail time? He's not suggesting cutting serial killers or terrorists loose, but thinks something needs to be done to address less dangerous offenders and rein in what is already the highest rate of incarceration in the world (five times the global average, far higher than in Iran or China, and higher even than Russia).
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author is a former Baltimore beat cop who went on to earn his masters and doctorate in sociology from Harvard. The book is the product of a conclusion that the rate of incarceration, the financial and social cost of long sentencces, and the abjecct failure of this system to prevent more crime; having come to the conclusion that the present system is broken, the aurhor traces the casual decision to abandon the use of flogging as an accepted form of punishment. The second point supporting this book is that attempts to "treat crime" and "cure the criminal" have failed even more obviously than the prison system; yet, a society needs some way to punish.

The author starts the book by asking which the reader would take if he had the choice forced upon him--ten very harsh strokes with a cane as used in a few countries or five years in prison. He asks if the reader chose the rather brief period of extreme pain why should flogging be considered "cruel and unusual punishment" and denied to others; under his proposal, flogging would only be used when a convicted person elected it over conventional imprisonment. The title of the book is exactly correct; the author is open to discussion of other ways to punish than that presently used in Western society. The author properly, in my opinion, limiting the choices to a "do/don't go to jail" with the single variable of length of time is bad social policy for all concerned. Further, he makes some virtually brilliant suggestions as to financial compensation being suddenly available for victims of crimes who would otherwise have little chance of restitution.

This is a book that makes an excellent, if controversial, point. It is also a rather short book. It is an excellent read for anybody.
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