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Thread: Wonder why Native Americans had no jails

  1. #1 Wonder why Native Americans had no jails 
    Forum Radioactive Isotope cosmictraveler's Avatar
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    I've always wanted to know why the Native Americans never needed jails or at least none were ever found at any of their settlements and towns. Anyone care to explain why that happened?


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  3. #2  
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    In ancient societies jails were rare. People who committed crimes were executed, enslaved, mutilated, etc. for serious crimes.


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    This is just speculation, but I imagine maintaining a jail would have been more trouble that it was worth. Ostracizing someone to the wilderness, outside the protection of the tribe would be almost certain death. If they weren't killed by exposure to the elements, there would be wild animals or enemies from other tribes that would do what they felt like to the individual if they were caught. Being cut off from the protection of the home tribe would have been a near death sentence. And if the crime was harsh enough that they felt letting be free to take their chances in the wild was too much of a risk that they'd return to the tribal camp, they probably had some ceremonial way of executing them.

    It may also be that they had different concepts of ownership and rights as well. If they had no concept of personal ownership, theft would be unheard of. If women were obligated to provide sex on demand, rape would be unheard of. If fighting was considered an acceptable means of settling differences, assault would be unheard of. They may just not have had many crimes to prosecute. Every tribe had their own views and social customs. I'm sure like any social group, they had ways and means of punishing deeds they disapproved of. Some may have even had some sort of incarceration. Jail is nothing more than banishment, but it's hard to banish someone when there is no where outside of society to banish the to. So jail became a necessity of higher population.
    Speaking badly about people after they are gone and jumping on the bash the band wagon must do very well for a low self-esteem.
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    Most disputes were settled by the honor system (rather than punishment) for the Sioux, Shoshone, Cherokee, Iroquois and some others.
    Read here: What is the Monkeysphere? | Cracked.com

    For tribes, most everyone was in your monkeysphere. Serious crimes were much more rare when everyone you know is in your monkeysphere. When drugs and such were not making you an addict mindset.

    If you took what did not belong to you from another, they would go to the Chief and the Chief would have both parties before him, listen to what they have to say and make a decision same as a Judge- then order compensation to be made fair.
    When the Chief is giving the order, the whole tribe is against you. Socially, you'd be remiss to not answer to it.
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  6. #5  
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    Quote Originally Posted by seagypsy View Post
    This is just speculation, but I imagine maintaining a jail would have been more trouble that it was worth. Ostracizing someone to the wilderness, outside the protection of the tribe would be almost certain death. If they weren't killed by exposure to the elements, there would be wild animals or enemies from other tribes that would do what they felt like to the individual if they were caught. Being cut off from the protection of the home tribe would have been a near death sentence. And if the crime was harsh enough that they felt letting be free to take their chances in the wild was too much of a risk that they'd return to the tribal camp, they probably had some ceremonial way of executing them.

    Also a lot of these tribes were able to maintain slaves among them. If you committed too many crimes I suppose they could sell you as a slave to another tribe, where you'd be beaten whenever you didn't do exactly what you were told.

    A slave couldn't really run away because we're talking about a tribe of hunter gatherers here. That means they have expert trackers. And expert hunters. They'd hunt you down and kill you or torture you or something if you tried to leave.

    One of the chief problems we have when trying to control our prison population is the prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishment". Many Native American tribes didn't have any such prohibition.
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    Where's the punchline? The title of the thread sounded like the setup of a good joke.
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    I used to live in a neighbourhood in Brooklyn with a very high Ultra-orthodox Jewish population. When somebody did something wrong (like mistreating his wife) there were flyers posted all over the neighbourhood saying that this person should be shunned - no talking to him, no looking at him, he's not allowed in the synagogue, etc. Imagine living in a close-knit community and getting the silent treatment from everyone you know. That is psychological torture. In a a prison, unless you are in solitary confinement, you get to interact with other people.
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    Had? I don't think you really wonder why, you are trying to make a point. Hunters and gatherers needed only what they and a horse could carry, everything else was eliminated including offenders. However today's Natives have plenty of jails. Since becoming civilized they have the same bleeding heart liberals that any other society has.
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    Shunning, banishment, exile - temporary or permanent. In many societies this was close to a death sentence. People could survive alone, but it was much, much harder.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
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    Quote Originally Posted by sampson View Post
    Had? I don't think you really wonder why, you are trying to make a point. Hunters and gatherers needed only what they and a horse could carry, everything else was eliminated including offenders. However today's Natives have plenty of jails. Since becoming civilized they have the same bleeding heart liberals that any other society has.
    So not choosing to murder criminals makes one a "bleeding heart liberal"?
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  12. #11  
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    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    Shunning, banishment, exile - temporary or permanent. In many societies this was close to a death sentence. People could survive alone, but it was much, much harder.
    Yeah. And for many people the tribe was their whole world. They'd have little hope of establishing new social connections anywhere else because other tribes would be suspicious of them for having ended up shunned in the first place.

    Quote Originally Posted by mikepotter84 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by sampson View Post
    Had? I don't think you really wonder why, you are trying to make a point. Hunters and gatherers needed only what they and a horse could carry, everything else was eliminated including offenders. However today's Natives have plenty of jails. Since becoming civilized they have the same bleeding heart liberals that any other society has.
    So not choosing to murder criminals makes one a "bleeding heart liberal"?
    Yeah. Pretty much. Why would you pity a murderer if your heart hasn't sprung a leak?
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    We weren't talking about murderers only. I typed criminals.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikepotter84 View Post
    We weren't talking about murderers only. I typed criminals.
    You are dazed and confused as to who used the word murder. Check post 10 and give your head a good shake. Let me clarify: the last remaining Hunters and Gatherers in America in the Artic and spotted through South America, maybe Central America, had few registered bleeding heart liberals, AFAIK.
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    No, you need to reread the post. I said:


    So not choosing to murder criminals makes one a "bleeding heart liberal"?
    You made it sound as if you though all criminals should be murdered.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikepotter84 View Post
    So not choosing to murder criminals makes one a "bleeding heart liberal"?
    Murder is unjustified killing. Executing a murderer is not murder, it's justice.
    Quote Originally Posted by mikepotter84 View Post
    We weren't talking about murderers only. I typed criminals.
    It's still not murder:

    Murder : the crime of unlawfully killing a person especially with malice aforethought
    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/murder
    So long as the execution is lawful, it's not murder. I would certainly agree that executing all criminals including minor infractions would be unjust, but it would not be murder.
    Last edited by madanthonywayne; June 26th, 2013 at 07:56 PM.
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  17. #16  
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikepotter84 View Post
    No, you need to reread the post. I said:


    So not choosing to murder criminals makes one a "bleeding heart liberal"?
    You made it sound as if you though all criminals should be murdered.
    I did? Where ? ..... Now you are hearing things.
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  18. #17  
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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmictraveler View Post
    I've always wanted to know why the Native Americans never needed jails or at least none were ever found at any of their settlements and towns. Anyone care to explain why that happened?
    I'm supposing you mean Native North Americans, what many people call Indians. I ramble on below, but bear with me.

    When Europeans encountered Indians, many/most of them lived nomadic lives, and many/most of the settlements and towns where some of them lived were not so permanent. Even those tribes with permanent settlements or towns had probably transitioned only relatively recently from a nomadic or semi-nomadic lifestyle, and maybe they still lived with a nomadic mindset. Most Indians lived nomadic or semi-nomadic lives and did not have permanent structures. I think some northwest tribes had fairly permanent structures, but they also had plentiful/reliable sources of food. When food sources dwindled, Indians would literally pull up stakes and move to other locations in search of food. Some of these Indians lived in societies that varied with the season. During the warm-weather months, when food was plentiful and life was easy, several families (often extended families) might camp together for a few months. During the cold-weather months, they would split up and go they own ways due to the scarcity of food (as they were more likely to survive if they covered more/different areas and not put all their eggs in one basket, as it were).

    This nomadic/semi-nomadic way of life leads to a few reasons why Indians did not have jails.
    • Living nomadic or semi-nomadic lives made it difficult to keep someone in a "jail" as the tribe was often on the move. Such a lifestyle might cause the form of punishment to be something along the lines of stocks, pillories and cangues (or some other form of corporal punishment as some have mentioned here).
    • Their lack of permanent/fortified structures made it difficult to keep someone in a jail. For example, animal skins thrown over poles do not make effective jails in which to hold someone against their will.
    • Even if they could make a permanent/fortified structure to function as a jail, such an extraordinary structure would require an inordinate amount of materials and labor.
    • Living a subsistent way of life, survival might often depend on everyone pitching in even the criminal types. So, the idea of excluding bad actors from work might also punish the whole society.
    As I think about this, maybe someone "thrown in jail" might even be perceived as privileged, given such a subsistent way of living. Think about it the prisoner is not required to hunt or gather, and yet, others must feed him and take care of him.

    One final thought comes to mind, and for it, I borrow from renowned scientist Jared Diamond. Basically, both North and South America lacked any significant beasts of burden (there were only a few kinds of small, tamable camelids in South America), and this limited/prevented the advancement of civilization for Native Americans which depended solely on human power. So, maybe this is the ultimate answer there were no beasts of burden in the Americas!
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrmonroe View Post
    As I think about this, maybe someone "thrown in jail" might even be perceived as privileged, given such a subsistence way of living. Think about it — the prisoner is not required to hunt or gather, and yet, others must feed him and take care of him.
    Indeed. Keeping people in jail for years is a luxury a primitive society simply could not afford. Why in the hell would you even consider providing food, shelter, and housing for the absolute worst elements of society when everyone else must work? It would make much more sense to either execute them or enslave them.
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  20. #19  
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrmonroe View Post

    This nomadic/semi-nomadic way of life leads to a few reasons why Indians did not have jails.
    • Living nomadic or semi-nomadic lives made it difficult to keep someone in a "jail" as the tribe was often on the move. Such a lifestyle might cause the form of punishment to be something along the lines of stocks, pillories and cangues (or some other form of corporal punishment as some have mentioned here).
    • Their lack of permanent/fortified structures made it difficult to keep someone in a jail. For example, animal skins thrown over poles do not make effective jails in which to hold someone against their will.
    • Even if they could make a permanent/fortified structure to function as a jail, such an extraordinary structure would require an inordinate amount of materials and labor.
    • Living a subsistent way of life, survival might often depend on everyone pitching in even the criminal types. So, the idea of excluding bad actors from work might also punish the whole society.
    As I think about this, maybe someone "thrown in jail" might even be perceived as privileged, given such a subsistent way of living. Think about it the prisoner is not required to hunt or gather, and yet, others must feed him and take care of him.

    One final thought comes to mind, and for it, I borrow from renowned scientist Jared Diamond. Basically, both North and South America lacked any significant beasts of burden (there were only a few kinds of small, tamable camelids in South America), and this limited/prevented the advancement of civilization for Native Americans which depended solely on human power. So, maybe this is the ultimate answer there were no beasts of burden in the Americas!
    Good points all. There would have been many less-than-prestigious jobs to which a person could be assigned. Like prison labor.

    If everyone in the tribe agrees that you are a "prisoner" or deserve long term punishment as a criminal - those people are the walls and bars. You're constantly surrounded by people who are willing to enforce the rules on you.

    In fact, if they wanted to put you in a "cell", they could simply take a stick and draw a line in the dirt around an area of the camp and say "stay here or else".
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    Quote Originally Posted by sampson View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by mikepotter84 View Post
    No, you need to reread the post. I said:


    So not choosing to murder criminals makes one a "bleeding heart liberal"?
    You made it sound as if you though all criminals should be murdered.
    I did? Where ? ..... Now you are hearing things.
    *Sigh* "Hearing things" on the internet? Anyway, this reads like "hunters and gatherers killed all criminal offenders...this is attributable to the rise of liberals" whether you meant it that way or not:

    Hunters and gatherers needed only what they and a horse could carry, everything else was eliminated including offenders...Since becoming civilized they have the same bleeding heart liberals that any other society has.



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  22. #21  
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    Quote Originally Posted by jrmonroe View Post
    ... During the cold-weather months, they would split up and go they own ways due to the scarcity of food ... !
    caveat:
    Not so for the northern Cheyenne.
    They would gather together for the winter months, feasting, telling stories, mating, etc...
    then split up into small bands during the warmer months, caching excess food along the way, which they would then gather up along with ripened grains, etc. on their way back to the winter gatherings. At the winter camp, they would hunt out an entire valley with some driving the game while others did the killing.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikepotter84 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by sampson View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by mikepotter84 View Post
    No, you need to reread the post. I said:


    So not choosing to murder criminals makes one a "bleeding heart liberal"?
    You made it sound as if you though all criminals should be murdered.
    I did? Where ? ..... Now you are hearing things.
    *Sigh* "Hearing things" on the internet? Anyway, this reads like "hunters and gatherers killed all criminal offenders...this is attributable to the rise of liberals" whether you meant it that way or not:

    Hunters and gatherers needed only what they and a horse could carry, everything else was eliminated including offenders...Since becoming civilized they have the same bleeding heart liberals that any other society has.
    Your talents are astounding. Your unanswered question/accusation turns into a charge against me, you can hear me, read me, and now you know what I really meant to say. You would make someone a good wife.
    Last edited by sampson; June 29th, 2013 at 06:55 PM.
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    Lmao...ignorant people are always so amusing to me.
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  25. #24  
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    Quote Originally Posted by mikepotter84 View Post
    Lmao...ignorant people are always so amusing to me.
    Well thank goodness for that,...I was beginning to worry about you.
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