As a core tenant of my in-justice system is a critical deviation from the current US system. I firmly believe that punishment MUST be cruel and unusual or it will have no meaning. I believe that the prohibition against 'cruel and unusual' punishment our founding fathers described meant to prohibit that which resulted in the punishee being unable to be rehabilitated into a contributing member of society. Thus I believe they were intent on prohibiting such things as cutting off the hands of a thief, blinding people, etc. That our system has 'deteriorated' to the point where the courts are clogged with prisoners complaining about their food and that they can't watch their favorite TV show is a testament that the pendulum has swung way too far in the wrong direction. I think that time spent in prison should be so miserable that the person's body actually becomes conditioned against the activity that led to the incarceration in the first place. The food should be miserable (but meet all nutritional requirements), taste nasty, look unappetizing and smell. The water, likewise, should be as nasty as possible without causing illness (lots of vitamins and minerals taste nasty and are often masked with pleasant flavors, just leave out the masks). The prisoners should also be required to do mind bendingly boring, but physically exhausting, pointless exercise 7 days a week, 18 hours a day. Something as meaningless as digging a ditch only to fill it up again. The activity should, by design, have not a shred of redeeming value (not like collecting trash on the road side; that should be reserved for litter bugs and the like) so there is no way the prisoner can get any justification from their activities. If the experience is unbelievably foul, then it acts as a meaningful deterrent. Also, with the physically exhausting exercise they won't have time to be bored and study for a degree in criminal activity with their cohorts.
Another core tenant is that all (non-capital) punishment should be short. A long sentence should be 12-18 months and reserved for the repeat offenders or people who have committed particularly heinous crimes (that don't justify capital punishment). Further, I believe in the 3-strikes and you are out philosophy. Initial offenders should get a light sentence: 1-3 months (my Marine Corps boot camp was 3 months and except for a couple of hours each Sunday morning and a few hours the final Sunday and a few hours the night before graduation, every second of every day was calculated to turn us into machines; to think I actually volunteered for that!). If someone is a repeat offender then they obviously didn't learn anything, so ramping the duration up to 8-9 months should drive home the message. Those that still don't get it might be given one last chance (though I would consider them incorrigible at this point) and get the maximum sentence.
A critical element of this miserable punishment, though, is that when you have endured it your debt to society is fully paid and except for reviewing your record in the event you are foolish enough to become a repeat offender, all notice is expunged. One of the critical failings of our system is that once someone is convicted of a crime it becomes almost impossible to reintegrate into society. I believe it used to be a crime to discriminate against criminals, now it is actually encouraged. If the punishment is meant to be rehabilitating, how can you allow such discrimination? What happens in our system is once someone is trapped (rightly or wrongly, for a pocket full of drugs or the heinous murder of a family) and jailed, he is trapped for life as he can no longer rejoin society as an equal. With that as a burden is it a wonder at the recidivism rate? It is a wonder to me that it isn't 100%! Add to this that our current system of incarceration puts together a lot of people who are knowledgeable about crime and have endless hours of boredom on their hands, is it any wonder that even those with the most mild of interests in crime get an education to enable them to think they can 'do better' next time?
I have mentioned 3-strikes-and-you-are-out and capital punishment a few times. I believe that for capital punishment to have any value as a deterrent (and I don't believe our current system has any deterrent value) it must be swift. If it does nothing else but remove violent criminals from being a burden on society, I think it is successful, but if it acts as a deterrent for even a single crime then it has functioned above and beyond my expectations. Granted that innocent people are caught up in the web of the in-justice system and occasionally will be convicted for capital crimes, that does not excuse, in my mind, allowing so many people who are violent criminals free or maintaining them at society's expense. Easy to say when I am not one of those innocent, but which is worse? Rotting in a boring (that is, when you are not being attacked or raped) system for decades until your appeals finally run out (or even worse in my mind, rotting there until you die), or getting dead in an expeditious manner. Now since some innocent people will be framed or otherwise railroaded into capital crimes and put to death in my system I believe that those responsible (particularly if they are members of the in-justice system (I would prepare a special hell for dirty cops and the prosecutors who enable them)) should not be put do death in a clean painless manner, but should be tortured to death over an extended period. If that doesn't act as a deterrent, at least those thirsting for revenge for their wrongly convicted and put-to-death friends and family should be happy. Since the vast majority of those currently in jail in our system today would be 'rehabilitated' and integrated back into society, the courts could focus on the capital crimes more thoroughly. Further, plea bargaining when innocent would not have such a nasty outcome as today. If you are innocent but are offered the chance of a 6-month sentence in purgatory, then your record wiped clean, it would be a lot easier to say yes than when today you are condemned for life with no chance of recovery no matter how things go down (heck, even those acquitted often find their lives destroyed). Thus it is likely that the only people going to trial would be those who really are guilty and want to extend their life for a little while longer and those who really are innocent but have been framed somehow. This would also free up resources for public defenders as more than likely people would be less likely to buck the system if they felt they could recover their lives soon afterward.
Regarding the expense, I am not sure, with modern technology, that it would necessarily be that much more expensive (on a daily basis) to monitor laborers and certainly it would be cheaper in the long run as the sentences would be much shorter (thus much fewer people to manage). Obviously there won't have any direct incentive for the prisoner to work hard (the work, as mentioned, is deliberately with no redeeming value), but as most know, misery is always relative. If your choice is dig this worthless ditch and have a bed to sleep on vs. sleep on a cold, wet concrete floor and forgo even the nasty food, you might decide that the smelly mattress and nasty food is worth the effort (heck, it will be a great excuse for slimming down! maybe even get volunteers ;-). In any case, the point is to make them so miserable that their very body and psych refuses to allow engagement in illegal activity and that may need tailoring to the individual. As for monitoring, a simple neck ring with an RF sensor in it and the perimeter surrounded with detectors ought to reliably detect people attempting to escape and the simple expedient of killing anyone who attempts to escape ought to serve as an excellent deterrent. In other words, if you are not willing to pay your debt to society (though the miserable servitude), then you ought not be allowed back into society and under my rules, that means only one other thing: capital punishment.
Regarding 'bleeding heart liberals' and their desire to eliminate the death penalty, I believe a fundamental difference of opinion boils down to misanthropy. Since I don't particularly attach any intrinsic value to human life (how many attach intrinsic value to a sewer rat? the difference is trivial in my mind) I don't see the value in having a cancer in a society simply to preserve a few innocent people (i.e., removing the diseased almost always requires the excision of some healthy tissue as well). Until and unless violent criminal behavior can be engineered out of our specie’s tendency (eugenics anyone?) there will always be people whose negative contribution to society calls for their ouster. Since we have no prison colonies to which they may be banished our only other choice is incarceration (which I feel is pointless, in addition to being expensive), capital punishment or rehabilitation. If incarceration is pointless (meaning people are just as likely to continue their life of crime after serving their sentence; I believe most will agree on this), then that leaves capital punishment or rehabilitation. If you don't want to consider capital punishment, that leaves only rehabilitation. Since these are violent, by definition anti-social, people, it will take something substantial to make them to truly feel civilized behavior is better than the alternative that has landed them in the in-justice system to begin with. I feel strongly that for the vast majority (probably well over 90%), a couple of months at hard labor with little sleep, nasty food and horrible water (coupled with being allowed to fully rejoin society as equals, a critically important point) ought to be all that is needed. There should only be a relative handful that need to be treated a second time and those would probably be the ones that need the extra attention. If the incorrigible do not respond to 'treatment', what then to do with them? We are then back to incarceration or capital punishment. If we have decided that incarceration is valueless, then there seems to me to be but a single alternative.
As for torturing those that have participated in the particularly heinous crime of framing an innocent: since these people are already intellectually committed to being law breakers (they framed an innocent, thus they are responsible for the original crime), they are now doubly guilty of violation: the original crime, then the crime of railroading the innocent. To have some sort of deterrent effect, I see the necessity of a long, drawn out horrible death as it seems to me they have already accepted the chance of a painless death if their plot goes awry.
So, what do you think?