Ethical Question of the Day

Should convicted criminals be able to hire substitutes to serve out their sentences? They can in China:

“Replacement convicts” are not new. For centuries, the use of criminal substitutes was among the first things Westerners would mention when discussing China’s legal system…In 1899, Ernest Alabaster, a scholar of Chinese criminal law, wrote that courts “permitted” the real offenders to hire substitutes, and that such things “frequently happen, have for long happened, and — notwithstanding Imperial decrees to the contrary — will, under the system, always happen.” Supposedly, the going rate in 1848 for a replacement convict was 17 pounds, which would come to roughly $2,000 in present-day dollars.

Incredibly, substitutes could be hired even for executions…T. T. Meadows, the British diplomat who convinced Western nations to copy China’s system of civil-service exams, argued that the phenomenon of substitute executions was not as surprising as it might seem. If a family is starving, wouldn’t many parents accept execution in exchange for enough money to save their children?

What do you think? HT: Sarah Kliff.

Comments (8)

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  1. Nichole says:

    Its only natural for parents to do unheard of things for their childern. How is substitutes for crime any different from American parents paying for their childern to get out of trouble here in the states. This does not mean it is right by any means, but it seems to happen more often.

  2. Burkman says:

    The whole idea of using a substitute to be executed in place of the criminal seems to stem from the attitude that people (across many cultures) have. That attitude is that “somebody has gotta die/pay for this”.

  3. Kyle says:

    Wouldn’t it defeat the entire purpose of a penal system?

  4. Joe S. says:

    It’s a voluntary exchange isn’t it?

  5. Buster says:

    The purpose of prison is to punish the wrongdoer and remove them from society, which they might otherwise continue harming. Incarceration also serves as a deterrent against potential troublemakers, who resist the temptation to prey on society because they fear incarceration. The concept of hiring a prison substitute defeats the entire purpose of incarceration. The idea of allowing wealthy people to hire substitutes would seem to be very costly to society.

  6. Kyle says:

    @Buster Well said.

  7. Otis says:

    When one considers how over-criminalized people are (even here), this centuries-old practice does not bother me too much.

  8. Corey says:

    Substitute prisoners show a break down of the rule of law. If a group can live above the law by having someone else serve their sentence then there are likely to be many more problems in that society.