Punishment that Fits

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Robert Blecker, New York Law School professor, death penalty advocate and author of The Death of Punishment: Searching for Justice among the Worst of the Worst (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), says his research in prisons shows that punishment is perversely practiced today where the worst criminals often live under better circumstances than those with more hope for rehabilitation. While he supports the death penalty, he argues that harsher treatment for those convicted of the worst crimes could make it less likely to be imposed.

From The Conversation

In the interview, Blecker talks of visiting one of the men convicted in the horrific Connecticut home invasion rape and murder case, and seeing him eating a chocolate bar and watching color TV in his cell. Blecker argues that for “the worst of the worst of the worst,” those whose crimes warranted sentences of death or life without parole, justice requires their day-to-day experience be without basic human pleasures.


Robert Blecker

Comments [56]

Donald J. Sepanek from Bayonne, NJ

Read this Atlantic article yesterday on my Facebook news feed, it describes the real-world consequences of your guest's theory:

Nov. 19 2013 04:32 PM
Benjamin Amendolara from Washington Heights

Maybe if there weren't so many wrongful convictions Blecker's assertions might hold some water. As of now, they do not. It seems his opinions are motivated more by his individual desire for retribution than by logic.

Nov. 19 2013 04:10 PM
Milos from Queens

Other commenters have made the most important points here: the unconstitutionality of what the professor proposes and the fact that innocent or mentally disabled people often end up on death say nothing of punishment as retribution that civilized people have learned to put aside. As Brian Lehrer noted in the interview, incarceration IS punishment.

But I do not find fault with Brian for giving Blecker air time. It's one of the virtues of public radio that all kinds of people can get a fair hearing, assuming they're not overtly offensive towards one particular group. Mr. Blecker is definitely an outlier, but his disdain for "the worst of the worst of the worst," as he calls them, does not qualify as bigotry. We would all agree that monsters who are actually guilty of the crimes for which they were convicted have forfeited their right to live in society.

It's important that Mr. Blecker's views be heard, not simply to give him a podium, but in order to educate us that people like Blecker exist, that they have clout and influence, that they write books and articulate points of view that many find odious. How else can we formulate an effective rebuttal? There is a place on public radio for a range of ideas and I applaud Brian for giving Blecker his 15 minutes.

Nov. 19 2013 01:21 PM
Lonnie from Brooklyn!!!

So Angry. So ANGRY he is! And he's Lying to us and to Himself when he says it's only about 'Just Punishment'. He wants to 'Exact Revenge' on a DAILY, NEVERENDING scale!

Our Justice System is way from Perfect. But hearing that bit from the Warden was a Foundational, Civilized Truth about how what we have is Better than what everyone else has. To follow this misguided man's prescription would create 'Atticas' in EVERY State, boiling with Rage & Hatred; and heaven HELP us if the Prisoners ESCAPE. Escapees would be TRIPLY frightening as they would show NO MERCY to innocent Bystanders.

I, too, have no love for Criminals. But if they've Served their Time-- Years of Life was taken away from them. They'll never get it back. Children they never saw grow up. Parents passing away they never saw again. Wonders of Everyday life that are Unknown to them behind bars. I think that DOES hurt them. We have to settle for that as 'Punishment Enough'.

Better that Brian SHOULD have asked this fellow: What Happened to YOU, that Made you what you are now?

Nov. 19 2013 12:41 PM

Time in prison is not about what we do to the prisoner (so-called punishment), but what the prisoner can do to repay a debt to society.

Let's recall the "Birdman of Alcatraz", Robert Stroud. Diagnosed in one prison hospital as a psychopath, he nevertheless by that time had a fine reputation as an ornithologist, having written two books about birds and bird disease. He also wrote a history of prisons, banned from publication until after his death. Repeated attempts by many were made to have him stripped of his ability to research and write.

If those who would have denied his talents — and ability to actually help society through his work — had succeeded, we would have been the poorer for it.

I submit that instead of narrow-mindedly subjecting a human being to what amounts to undue torture (which amounts to revenge, not retribution as you guest suggests) that instead we cultivate a prisoner's talent(s) and encourage the prisoner to use that as a tool for repaying society (and/or that which was affected by the prisoner's actions) for the harm that the prisoner caused — at least in some small way.

If the prisoner is a lifer, we benefit. If the prisoner is let out and is able to be employed because of his cultivated talent(s), we all benefit.

Punishment no longer is sufficient or even acceptable in a civilized society.

Nov. 19 2013 12:04 PM
Beth from Morningside Heights

It's amazing that this crank is being given a soapbox to spew his hateful lies. Rehabilitation is "rare" and can be faked? A basketball league for death row inmates is beyond the pale? Just incredible. He should just move to a country with Sharia law. He probably thinks that debtors' prisons should be brought back as well.

Nov. 19 2013 11:48 AM
Michael Riedel

Bring back Warden Norton! He was a refreshing change from the predictable leftie fare we usually get on this show -- such as the conversation right now about why we don't hire everybody who was ever in prison.

Mamma Morton

Nov. 19 2013 11:44 AM
Carol from New Jersey

STRONGLY DISAGREE with Mr. Blecker, and with his regrettable premise. Am relieved that there is someone such as "The assistant warden in Oklahoma spoke words of wisdom in his humane compassion." I would echo most of the comments above!

We have all to take responsibility for the wrongs that happen in our society and work on that. This is where the focus must be.

Nov. 19 2013 11:42 AM
Joan McKiernan from Windsor, NY

Most of the time it is difficult to remember that we claim to live in a civilized society. This last session confirms that lack of civility in this country as we see that a law school has rewarded someone with medieval views and that he is further rewarded by a hearing on the Brian Lehrer show. The US uses prisons to get rid of its unwanted citizens. The US has the largest percentage of its population in prison, having a particularly serious impact on Black and brown men, destroying them, their families and their communities. Brian Lehrer should focus on the aspects of American society, such as poverty and inequality,that condemns these people, rather than giving time to those who only look to punish. Interview Michelle Alexander!

Nov. 19 2013 11:34 AM

Somebody get this guy a popsicle

Nov. 19 2013 11:34 AM
Holly from Cobble Hill, Brooklyn

I wonder, is there any data to suggest that the retribution Mr. Blecker proposes would serve as deterrent to criminal activity? Rather than just proposing how to make life worse for criminals, I think it might be easier to understand such a violent stance if it also suggested it would lower frequency of criminal activity.

Nov. 19 2013 11:31 AM
martha from grnpt

This is possibly the worst segment you have ever conducted. I am sorriest to learn that your guest may have had an effect on the Connecticut legislature. Not only is his idea the most regressive imaginable short of medieval torture or some slightly more sophisticated version of 'an eye for an eye," he has no care whatsoever for the not insignificant percentage of those who are given unequal, unjustified, or outright wrong sentences (the latter being innocent people) and the racial elements of justice as actually dispensed. Or, one might add, for the mentally ill or the penitent!
A society regresses when it demonizes its incarcerated.

Oddly just the other day i was thinking that we seem to have passed that terrible time when legislatures, primarily in the South and Midwest, could be persuaded to take gyms and small pleasures from prisoners. I was wrong. Socially this "let's not be soft on crime" idea is purely symbolic and unrelated to fact.

YOUR culpability (or that of your producer) seems imo to be guilty of trying to cleverly balance a segment on something sociologically and statistically defensible with something splashy on the other side. FIE!

Nov. 19 2013 11:30 AM
Mullah Omar from Kandahar

I love this guy! We had this in my country and it was great! Victims are certainly the best qualified to determine appropriate punishment for criminals. :D

Nov. 19 2013 11:29 AM

He needs to publish the accounts of the people he interviewed in prison who are there by choice because they wanted the medical care, free time and exercise program.

Nov. 19 2013 11:28 AM

I expect that Brian will shortly reveal that his guest was really Steven Colbert

Nov. 19 2013 11:27 AM
genejoke from Brooklyn

Why shouldn't prison be a living hell? Esp for scumbags like the guys who brutally raped and killed the family in CT a few years ago. Why can't we impose hell on those criminals whom we KNOW FOR CERTAIN committed heinous crimes?

Nov. 19 2013 11:27 AM
Carlos from Brooklyn

The worst part is that this opportunist a$Sh@le, who probably can't sell a textbook otherwise, will go on to Colbert Report, Lopate, the Daily Show, etc. and do a nice book run and profit from advocating torture.

Why was it necessary to give this psycho a WNYC segment??

Nov. 19 2013 11:26 AM

*cough*-Fox News Audition-*cough*

Nov. 19 2013 11:26 AM
Peggy murphy mercado from NY

I have never had a family member impacted by a horrific crime, so I might honestly feel differently if I had such an experience. A point that is not being addressed is that many of these people who are on death row have mental illness, came from horrific beginnings. There also a number of people on death row who are innocent. This is certainly a complex issue with regard to defining punishment and suffering.

Nov. 19 2013 11:24 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I might be able to support this idea, if the justice system were better at determining who really committed the kinds of crimes Prof. Blecker mentions. There've been a couple of recent cases in which people turned out to be innocent after many years in prison, & the Exoneration Project has shown a great number of prisoners convicted of murder or other terrible crimes were railroaded & weren't guilty of the crimes. If conditions in prisons are made worse because of the severity of the crime, we need to do much better at making sure they're really guilty.

Nov. 19 2013 11:23 AM
Patrick from Tappan

This is a very angry man. Get life. Get help.

Nov. 19 2013 11:23 AM

The guest should redirect his purpose to folks outside of prison...

Nov. 19 2013 11:23 AM

I think this guy should focus more on improving quality of life outside of prison. He has an issue with inequality, not punishment.

Nov. 19 2013 11:23 AM
The Truth from Becky

I agree, the poor should not be suffering worse than lifers...annnd let's speed up the execution process for death row...why do they sit for so long???

Nov. 19 2013 11:22 AM
foodaggro from Brooklyn

Rehabilitation is crucial whether the convict is released or not - at least the prisoner can contribute to society in some way. (cue old-school images of striped men making license plates and workin' on the railroad)

I've never understood "forgiveness." Who in their right mind forgives a murderer for taking the life of a loved one??

Nov. 19 2013 11:22 AM
Adam Birnbaum

We don't do rehabilitation in this country. Anyone claiming that it "doesn't work" is either a liar, or else is so ignorant of what other countries are successfully doing with rehabilitation that their opinions deserve to be ignored. We are a country drowning in rage and desire to take vengeance on our imprisoned population. Our prisons are already so terrible that the UN has cited the United States for torturing its prisoners.

You have invited a proponent of torture onto your show. Why New York Law tolerates his presence on their faculty is a mystery, but as an attorney myself I cannot fathom why you would offer him a platform for this nonsense.

Nov. 19 2013 11:22 AM
Edward from NJ


Nov. 19 2013 11:22 AM
Ed from Ditmas

This guy is unbelievable. Sad that he's a professor. Wow.

Nov. 19 2013 11:22 AM
Robert from NYC

Arts and crafts for death row inmates?? Oh the horror!

I think we might need to put Blecker behind bars to protect society.

Nov. 19 2013 11:21 AM
Allison from Brooklyn

This guy is so sure of himself. It seems like every other month there's some innocent person released from prison after being exonerated by DNA evidence. Come on. Like Brian says, losing your freedom IS the punishment. I know prisons aren't living hells, and they should NOT be.

Nov. 19 2013 11:21 AM
John from Brooklyn

“People are more than the worst thing they have ever done in their lives.” ― Sr. Helen Prejean

Nov. 19 2013 11:21 AM

I commented on the wrong page.

TIME SERVED is the punishment. To waste our time formulated specific "punishments" for specific crimes is ludicrous. Its a waste of time. The justice system is not god.

Nov. 19 2013 11:20 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I think Professor Blecker is wrong when he says that the victim's photo should be in view of the prisoner. If a prisoner raped and murdered a child, or anyone, for that matter, a picture can take them back to the place in time and bring them repeated satisfaction rather than evoke guilt or compassion.

Does Professor Blecker feel that life without parole is a more satisfactory punishment than the death penalty?

Nov. 19 2013 11:20 AM
Nick from UWS

Ask him what he thought of Abu Grahib.

Nov. 19 2013 11:20 AM

This guy is a designer torturer. He needs a shrink, not a segment on 'NYC.

Nov. 19 2013 11:20 AM
Tim from Nyack

Bring back the rack! The dunking chair! The guillotine! Nut-job law professors!

Nov. 19 2013 11:19 AM
Jeremy from Brooklyn

Robert Blecker may be a professor of law, but his appraisal of punishment stems from a five-year-old's emotional maturity. This guy is a grade-A whack job.

Nov. 19 2013 11:19 AM
The Truth from Becky

Rehabilitation is a joke, doesnt work. I agree with him on some points, prison should not be a country club experience BUT, First we need to be sure the guilty are actually guilty.

Nov. 19 2013 11:19 AM
GH from London

People that do sick crimes are mentally sick ... No matter what their intelligence, thinking that you can assign a rational punishment where you create a "hell on earth" is vindictive and starts to lower us to the level of these criminals... it is a hard issue to deal with but hidden inside the vindictiveness is our inability to cope with our aggregate sicknesses and attempt by such vindictiveness to throw under the bus our own demons that manifest in these sick and deformed personalities.. as a aggregate society we rape and murder and deprive ... ... give me a break

Nov. 19 2013 11:19 AM
Pablo Alto from Manhattan

People with sadistic tendencies such as this guest sound eerily similar to those who justified the Spanish Inquisition. I suppose it is worthwhile to know that people like him exist.

Might I suggest speaking with Julio Medina, the Executive Director of the Exodus Transitional Community about redemption.

Nov. 19 2013 11:18 AM
steve from manhattan

If Mr. Blecker believes that the punishment must fit the crime, does he also advocate that anyone incarcerated wrongly, anyone proven innocent by DNA or other means yet who served time, be compensated at a fair rate, let's say $2 million PER YEAR behind bars???

Nov. 19 2013 11:18 AM
J from NJ

This righteous sadist deserves a taste of his own medicine. C'mon people, we need more torture chambers these days. That way we can abolish the death penalty altogether. Endless suffering, with guys like this as your judge...

Nov. 19 2013 11:18 AM
John from Brooklyn

Wow, this man has MAJOR ISSUES!! Doesn't most law talk about rehabilitation? What about this concept addresses that? Also, what about the person wrongly accused (as often happens on death row)?

This man's ideas about crime/punishment do not echo the majority of the non-imprisoned population in the United States. Also, how do we decide punishment and what's appropriate? Everyone has a different idea about this.


Nov. 19 2013 11:18 AM
José from Queens

I can't even believe this imbecile teaches law. What he is advocating for amounts to torture. Why should my tax dollars ever go to torturing other people? Normal people do not commit horrible crimes. Obviously you have to be sick to commit the kinds of crimes he is talking about. If he were a doctor he would probably treat cancer with asbestos.

Nov. 19 2013 11:17 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

Blecker apparently forgot the Constitution has a prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment". Oops. What a stupid segment with a self aggrandizing pseudo tough guy. I weep for the trees that gave their pulp to print the pages of his dumb book... destined for the bargain bin in 3, 2, 1 ...

Nov. 19 2013 11:17 AM

Did this scholar spend a month in solitary as part of his research? That's what he proposes for hardened criminals. Has he ever interviewed anybody exonerated by DNA evidence that was going to die "rightly," as he says? How do we get monsters like this in New York city?

Nov. 19 2013 11:17 AM
steveh from NY

What is wrong with this idiot ?

He should take his uncivilized vendetta and go to someplace where
he will be appreciated some 3000 years ago in the old testament.

Cruel and inhumane treatment is his vendetta.

How many people have been exhonerated of MURDER in the last 10 years?

Nov. 19 2013 11:17 AM
genejoke from Brooklyn

Oh yeah, what about the wrongfully convicted?
And also, if no rehabilitation is attempted, and the convict is released back into society, we run the risk of recidivism.

Nov. 19 2013 11:17 AM
Nick from UWS

This guy is probably orgasmic over Kafka's "In The Penal Colony".

Nov. 19 2013 11:16 AM
RCT from NYC

Brian, sorry, but this guy is out of his mind.

Nov. 19 2013 11:15 AM
genejoke from Brooklyn

I like this guy. Can Mr. Blecker explain WHY prisoners are treated better than they should be?

Nov. 19 2013 11:15 AM
Robert from NYC

The assistant warden in Oklahoma spoke words of wisdom in his humane compassion.

This Blecker guy is a sadistic nut.

Nov. 19 2013 11:15 AM

This guy is a wacko sadist. How about we focus on rehabilitation?

Nov. 19 2013 11:14 AM
Nick from UWS

This guy is insane.

Nov. 19 2013 11:14 AM
ml from inwood

Wow - what an angry man. Being locked up is the punishment. Does he want to try it for a while and see how he likes it? Does he want the guards to go to work full of hate everyday?

Nov. 19 2013 11:14 AM

savage dystopians like your guest. Like to ignore the hundreds of innocent people put to death. Political prisoners in solitary confinement. Framed political prisoners on death row. Dna testing has proved their innocence. District attorneys push to make everyone guilty, do any dirty tricks to get that outcome. Instead of spending billions to torture people, have them educated and give back. There is no proof of the"worst of the worst" in such a corrupt justice system.

Nov. 19 2013 11:14 AM

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