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PRELUDE

I was thinking over the lines from the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

So I started thinking, "Is it really acceptable for the US government to execute people? Is it really even acceptable for it to imprison people since that would take away their 'liberty'? How could we punish people and protect those members of society who uphold the social contract from those who do not?

Exile? EXILE!


In theory, exiling all offenders that would otherwise be put to death or live their entire life in prison to a shared 'island' for such people could be argued as a humane alternative. The government does not impede on their rights to life and liberty, and yet they have lost their chance to live among those who have not broken the social contract.

People are people however, and I started seeing humanitarian issues within said island as gangs and/or 'war-groups' formed and started committing atrocities against one another. It could be, arguably, worse than prison.


THE HEART OF THE QUESTION

So is there a way to make exile a consistently humane alternative to the death penalty and/or life in prison?

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    $\begingroup$ Isn't the island you're suggesting just another form of prison? Napoleon certainly viewed his exile on St. Helena as the equivalent of being imprisoned. Or are these exiles at liberty to leave the island just so long as they don't return home? $\endgroup$ – Steve Bird Sep 8 '16 at 14:39
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    $\begingroup$ This scenario will cause more problems than it will solve. Life and liberty are only freedoms for those who choose to live within the confines of law. You give up both when you decide to break the law. Society decides to what degree. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Sep 8 '16 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ Um, anyone heard of Australia??? $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Sep 8 '16 at 21:05
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    $\begingroup$ @NuWin, The English used Australia as a penal colony, when the American penal colonies where no longer considered a viable option (Independence was just around the corner). 'Transporting' any undesirables & criminals to Australia's Botany Bay and other locations as punishment. This was either for a term or for life. Conditions where harsh, the camps ill supplied and colony 'guards' brutal. Not all who went to Australia were convicts, but what the OP is describing, is pretty much what has happened in the past. Any search of 'Australia', 'convicts' or 'transportation' will give you the history. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Sep 11 '16 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ @NuWin, I must mention though, transportation to Australia was typically for petty crimes and political prisoners. Punishment for serious crimes such as murder, and rape where punishable by death and generally not 'transportable' offences. $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Sep 11 '16 at 20:26
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No - It's a Recursive Solution

If you want to exile people because they are not playing by your rules BUT you want them to treat one another humanely they will need a new set of rules governing them wherever they are. Since it is not your government handling them (by definition of "exile"), another government will need to be set up. That government would have to outlaw bad behavior and either punish it by incarceration / execution or exile. But you have stipulated that they cannot choose incarceration or execution, so they elect Exile. Any other choice on the part of the "exile government" is effectively a choice you could have just made in the first place.

And then the cycle starts again.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm fairly certain this is the story of Australia in a nutshell. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Sep 8 '16 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ Unless you send each exile to a separate island where there is no one else to interact with. That kind of solitary unconfinement might be inhumane, but it does solve the recursion. All you need is a lot of Austrailias. $\endgroup$ – SRM Sep 8 '16 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ In such an island, a government would self-assemble. Just because that government comes in the form of gangs or armies doesn't mean they are any less viable as a form of government. I mean, literally, what's the difference between that and what we have in the USA right now anyway? $\endgroup$ – Adam Sep 8 '16 at 22:54
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The ancient Greeks used exile as a punishment for crimes against the polis, although since the rules they used were far different from what we would consider a court of law, the juries were often swayed into applying these sentences based on the skill of the demagogue arguing against the accused.

Thucydides was exiled because he chose to turn back and rescue sailors in his fleet rather than continue pursuing a defeated enemy fleet. Alcibiades was also exiled for his political ambitions, although the Athenians probably would have been better off having him executed instead.

This shows the problem with using exile as a sentencing tool; people who are truly hostile or criminal will continue their activities outside of the place they are exiled from, and can potentially team up with your enemies to come back under arms. Exiles can also propagandize against you; Thucydides and Xenophon were both exiled from Athens, and we know of them today because of their writings. While these two men did not themselves propagandize against Athens directly, their feelings towards their former home can be deduced from their writing. It is possible that an equally skilled writer could have directly propagandized against his home state, and in the modern era, an exiled person using social media can potentially cause immense damage. Several Americans have joined various Jihadi groups and have sought to convert other Americans and inspire them to commit terrorist acts inside the United States (until their writing careers were forcibly ended by a hellfire launched from a drone).

You also need to understand the context that the Founders were writing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution under. As Enlightenment philosophers, they were operating under the assumption that there were no divine or other external forces that separated men. The phrase "All men are created equal" is nonsense if taken literally, but makes sense in a political context; you are not born to rule or be ruled, and no one is born to rule over you or be your slave (once again context is necessary, "men" are citizens with political rights, which was narrowly defined in the 1700's). Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are goals that all free men can strive for, but the Founders were equally aware that not all men (or even non citizens or people without political rights) would act within the law, they had no problem with enforcing the law, or using force to right perceived injustices (which is how they saw the American Revolution). Since the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the United States, which all other laws and regulations are supposed to be referenced and subordinate to, the Founders had no need to go into criminal law at length, and indeed outside of forbidding cruel and unusual punishment or "post ex facto" prosecution (prosecuting you under a law which did not exist at the time of the alleged crime), there is very little direct reference in these documents.

Capital punishment, debtors prison and all the other law enforcement tools of the 1700's were considered to be normal and effective means of dealing with criminality, so the idea of exile for crimes would probably seem ludicrous to the Founders.

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Exile them where to?

1) If another nation takes all your criminals, they might only do so if they use them as second class citizens for labor, most likely in some kind of prison camps.

2) If you put them in a place which for some reason doesn't belong to a nation, they will form their own nation, therefore this scenario leads to 1) after a couple years.

3) If you create a lesser nation inside your borders, where you influence government, military, etc. you can maintain that exile state for a long time. But these people will procreate to the point where you have more natural born citizens of the lesser state than criminals. Thus you have social inequality between people from the lesser state and full citizens from your state. This will likely lead to social unrest and deep resentment between people from the lesser state and full citizens. A related (but not equal! I'm not making a political statement here!) example can be found inside contemporary Israel.

4) If you sterilize the criminals first, 3) could work, because by definition everyone in the exile state is a criminal. It's essentially a large scale prison rather than exile, and you'd need border guards rather than prison guards. They'd be self-governed, but you'd make sure to have a good grip on the government inside, and control the situation with a good intelligence network. You'd also be prepared to eliminate potential troublemakers at the push of a button, without trial.

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  • $\begingroup$ But is forced sterilisation ethical and humane? I still like your answer $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Sep 8 '16 at 21:14
  • $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps Sterilization? Unethical for sure. Just exile men and women to separate places. $\endgroup$ – user58697 Sep 9 '16 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ @user58697, surely segregation is just as unethical... $\endgroup$ – EveryBitHelps Sep 9 '16 at 6:46
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    $\begingroup$ @EveryBitHelps Well. Is the death penalty ethical and humane? Is lifelong incarceration ethical and humane? Some countries get by without either of these 2, so the answer isn't as simple as it seems. $\endgroup$ – Peter Sep 9 '16 at 9:40
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Exile is not a valid punishment for "normal" people. It only applies to leaders, politicians, princes.

Normal people can just go and be normal people somewhere else, but leaders of the people when exiled, are doomed to become normal in their new home. They lose the power and influence that is their identity.

While you as an authority have removed a problem from your territory, when it's a normal person you haven't really punished the person in the same way that you would have otherwise. Certainly exile to the average criminal could not be considered a punishment on the same level as death, but to a prince the two could be considered almost equivalent.

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I think the author of the question may want to investigate what the US does with sex offenders. They are internally exiled from living near schools, parks, etc. It is a sort of exile-in-place. Opinions vary about whether it is ethical or not, but it would be a model to investigate.

Also Google the term "The Culture slap drone". Sci-fi author Ian Banks has some thoughts on the topic.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd argue that's closer to a class system than it is to exile. Nevertheless, good thoughts, +1 $\endgroup$ – Peter Sep 8 '16 at 20:15
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No, exile can never pretend to be a "humane" substitution for the death penalty. The actual results of any attempt to do so would range from the inhumane to the outright insane.

One thing that really stands out to me is, what punishments are worthy of your death penalty? Specifically, if you think it is a humane thing to let those things happen, why the heck do you think not letting it happen in your own borders, to your own people, is not hypocrisy? Really, what's the point of marking their behavior as death-penalty-worthy if it is fine to let them continue doing it, it doesn't make sense.

If some nation is using the death penalty for truly minimally problematic things that actually would be fine elsewhere, I think exile might be kinda feasible for those minimal offenses - but the worse problem is that your originating country is deeply unjust, and it's better to fix the scale of punishments (ie, that was not supposed to be death-penalty worthy to begin with) than treat exile as a straight substitute. The actual cure for these...mismatches... in a just society is not exile, but emmigration - let people choose to leave, without fault and without fuss, from places where whatever-it-is is not welcome to places where the whatever-it-is is welcome.

The death penalty is not supposed to be for petty problems. Crimes worth the death penalty, or that a society thinks worth considering for the death penalty, are serious stuff. Offhand, I'm thinking of bloody, violating, horrifying, and fundamentally not humane crimes. And your government wishes to condone that behavior, to protect those criminals, to literally say they have a right to continue acting in that way - and your government will not even let them be treated as criminal for it? No, no I don't think that's humane. At all. Ever.

Because what is going to stop them? The people who do things you actually think are badwrongevil? Why are they not wandering off and just keep killing, torturing, raping whosoever they wish? If you put them on an island, and keep them on it - that's not exile, it's imprisonment. And they're free to prey on others on that island, some of whom are going to be more vulnerable than others - especially if you're also using exile instead of regular imprisonment and not just death-penalty stuff. So it allows considerably worse conditions than regular prisons aspire to - there aren't any rules to keep people on the island safe from inhumane treatment by each other... and if you aren't concerned about those on the island preying on others there because they "deserve" not to be protected - you might as well kill them clean, it would be kinder than the suffering humans can inflict on each other with no rules or limits! There is also a greater risk of escape (boats, rafts, bridges - humans are good at traveling), or targeting those keeping them on the island, with increased freedom and possibly cooperation among the criminals, not to mention the expense and risk of providing resources for them to survive.

True exile is even worse - it only kicks them out of their originating country, and prevents them from returning. So then they leave, and travel wherever they wish, to other unsuspecting populations, and hurt people. And wherever they land will then have to deal with them, and do the things your country won't - kill them to save others, imprison or execute them. Bonus points, you now have diplomatic incidents cropping up all over the place - from those victimized populations who want to know why your counrty didn't stop the criminal before they hurt their people, and your country wanting to know why other countries are allowing such..."inhumane"... treatment of their ex-citizens. Especially since if it's "inhumane" for them to imprison or kill, any other reaction to other countries controlling their exiled criminal's behavior by those methods would make them cynical hypocrites, outsourcing their law enforcement to other countries, which those countries will not like. Eventually, there will be war where those surrounding countries will try and make the originating country act saner.

Other answers speak quite well on the how the substitution doesn't work, all the logistical problems of where to put them and what rules, but not as much on the why of it not working, the fundamental ethical problems and the types of crime involved.

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If you are going to ship those criminals to an unclaimed island (meaning it doesn't belong to any country) you have to make sure that they don't make their own country and that they do not escape. Meaning you will have to establish border patrol as well as placing guards on the island so they don't start building weapons to launch against you. Effectively you've just built a prison on another island. Prisons already have gangs and lots of crimes happen in prisons. Calling prisons humane is a delusion. But you need that delusion of calling it humane so you can actually put people in there. Citizens belong to the government and even more so when they are in prison. Sometimes prisoners are used as a workforce. Arguably in some countries (low-security) prison is pretty much great except for the fact that you're locked in.

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