Crime and punishment


From the noose to the electric tag

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That crime doesn't pay is something punishment has always needed to prove. But the way criminals are punished has changed radically down through history. At one point capital punishment was common, and the sentence was often justified by citing God's law". Today, criminals need not fear the death penalty. Modern prisons encompass everything from juvenile correctional facilities and educational programmes to open prisons and electronic tags.

Well into the 18th century, the gallows, impaled heads and bodies broken on the wheel were all common sights at public execution sites. Thieves were hanged. Women found guilty of infanticide were decapitated and their dismembered heads displayed in public. Murderers were broken on the wheel. Pacts with the Devil, incest, sodomy or other forms of unnatural forms of sexual intercourse were punishable by burning at the stake. Those to be executed for killing someone in an fight were to be given an honourable" death – execution by sword and a church burial.

Salvation at the stake
Executions were more than just a way for society to show its anger. In many cases, God commanded that crimes be punished by death. But God also wanted the church to work for the salvation of the condemned's soul, and executions became religious ceremonies complete with hymns and prayers and blessings. Before long, the joke was that no one was more certain to make it to…

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