Two issues involving incarceration arose today that are, inexplicably, related. One, involves the despicable Bernie Madoff's expected guilty plea for criminal charges related to his estimated $65 billion fake investment scheme. The other involves the castration of sex offenders in the Czech Republic, an increasingly common practice that is deemed, "invasive, irreversible and mutilating" by the Council of Europe's anti-torture committee (but a-OK for Louisiana, where Bobby Jindal signed in favor of it).

The matter at hand? What, exactly, the purpose of a prison should be. "A place of confinement especially for lawbreakers," is what the Webster dictionary labels a prison, which seems to boil it down to a glorified time-out. In reality, a prison is where law enforcement exercises punishments that are either punitive or preventative in nature.

For Madoff, there's little chance his thieving schemes will threaten those poor affluent investors again. Even if he wasn't set to plead guilty, even if he somehow escaped a prison sentence, there's not a chance that he'll ever have a chance to repeat his crimes. Anyone who gives him another cent deserves to have it pinched. So his imprisonment serves as a punishment for his deeds, the equivalent of society walloping him with a club (which could prove to be a worthwhile venture). His imprisonment doesn't curb the threat of him lurking in the wallets of the rich, and it certainly won't prevent any swindlers from trying to pull off equally grand schemes. The payoffs are simply too grand not to risk illegality.

An excellent article in The New York Times today highlighted the issues of castration in the Czech Republic. Pavel, a man who at the age of 18 murdered a 12 year-old boy for what his psychiatrist deemed as sexual pleasure. During the last year of his seven-year stay in prison, he requested castration. This, Pavel feels, removed all of his terrible urges, and he now spends his time gardening at a Catholic charity, abstaining from all romantic and sexual relationships.

The castration was not prescribed by the state, the decision is completely up to the individual offender, but just having the option present says a great deal about the philosophy at hand in such matters. It's not just enough to imprison people after they perpetrate their crimes, measures must be taken to ensure that such crimes never occur again. Particularly in cases as grotesque as sex offense, strong emotional appeals from the families of victims plead for the assurance that such events will never take place again, and the gut reaction of anyone who hears about such a crime is to do whatever possible to ensure that it never happens again.

Yes, they're different cases that offend society in different ways, but the question remains; should the state react to crime with punitive or preventative measures? In the U.S., with as massive of a prison population as we have, doing both is impossibly expensive, but it seems as though the purely punitive approach doesn't seem to be making a great deal of progress in impeding repeat offenders. Conversely, preventative measures can be as simple as job training classes or therapy, but they can easily ramp up to extreme policies such as castration, which in the eyes of many violates the rights of the criminal.

So, Elon community, what do you have to say about the matter?