“the most evil people on earth”?

March 27, 2009

More from Webb:

Let’s start with a premise that I don’t think a lot of Americans are aware of. We have 5% of the world’s population; we have 25% of the world’s known prison population. We have an incarceration rate in the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, that is five times as high as the average incarceration rate of the rest of the world. There are only two possibilities here: either we have the most evil people on earth living in the United States; or we are doing something dramatically wrong in terms of how we approach the issue of criminal justice.

Of course, the latter makes us a bit closer to the former! But I think this is a great line to put out. Moral suasion can be a very powerful force, done right. I hope Webb can allow the US to rethink the moral space of prisons and criminality — and do much, much better.

4 Responses to ““the most evil people on earth”?”

  1. thezasulichsociety Says:

    This dilemma of the prison system with which we are presented is further evidence of the fact that our societal/governmental system as it is is irredeemably rotted and should be done away with whole-scale.

  2. Bijan Parsia Says:

    I understand the impulse, but whole-scale demolition of a society generally has lots of attendant costs and harms. Perhaps they are unavoidable, but I really hope its not the case in the US since the damage to everyone almost certainly be immense.

    But it’s cold comfort to those caught in the system.

    I’m rooting for Webb to make reform the preferred choice over revolution on this front…

  3. forensiccrimescene Says:

    Personally I think some of the drug laws on the book are keeping people that really are harmless to society locked up and skewing the number.

    Murders should be behind bars. But are there different levels of evil within the catagory of “murderer.”

    I found a list of the 21 Levels of Evil by Forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Stone. It is pretty interesting:

    http://forensiccrimescene.com/how-evil-are-you-the-scale-of-evil-for-killers/

    • Bijan Parsia Says:

      This is certainly Webb’s position: He doesn’t think the US population is composed of more evil people than other societies, thus the imprisonment rate does not reflect a “natural” problem. The magnitude of the difference (25% of the world prison population! from 5% of the population!) is striking.

      I’m by no means a forensic anything, but I’m pretty skeptical about that list, at least as it’s presented there. A linear total order seems completely implausible (esp. as there are clearly multiple dimensions in the text). I’m sure there would be quite a lot of controversy about level 1 vs. level 5 (i.e., there’s some feminist literature I recall about how to conceptualize abused people who kill not in immediate, direct self-defense (which I guess is what 1 really is characterizing) as engaging in something reasonably analogous).

      I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to exclude other people who perform sanctioned kills, e.g., executioners, soldiers, and police officers. The drama of the title “Levels of Evil” obscures the fact, I would imagine, that level 1 people aren’t evil. Similarly, accidental or negligent deaths seem relevant.


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