Degradingness and Intrusiveness

Andrew von Hirsch and Uma Narayan

in Censure and Sanctions

Published in print February 1996 | ISBN: 9780198262411
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191682339 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Monographs on Criminal Law and Justice

Degradingness and Intrusiveness

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The history of imprisonment has been full of degrading rituals ranging from the lockstep and the treadmill in early days, to aversive therapies in recent times. Prison reform efforts have been devoted in considerable part to getting rid of such practices. Intermediate sanctions can offer new opportunities for creating humiliating routines. The fact that such sanctions are relatively novel, and little controlled, makes this danger all the greater. Even standardised penalties can visit unjustified humiliation. One requires a theory on what types of penalties should be ruled out because of their degradingness or intrusiveness. Not much theory has been developed on what makes punishments unacceptably humiliating. One might begin by clearing away the undergrowth, that is, putting aside some commonly-heard fallacies. One fallacy is the anything-but-prison theory. Intervention in the community is tolerable irrespective of its degrading or intrusive character, this view asserts, as long as the resulting sanction is less onerous than imprisonment.

Keywords: imprisonment; sanctions; penalties; intrusiveness; punishments; community; degradingness; humiliation

Chapter.  3851 words. 

Subjects: Criminal Law

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