In order for punishment to work as a deterrent as many people claim is the primary purpose there needs to be a consistent set of guidelines and the public has to know that it will be enforced fairly, this should include the jury pool. In the nineties there was a report prepared by a group of expert scholars to set up a recommended set of guidelines for punishment of certain crimes.
(First posted on Tripod on September 2 2009)
This wasn’t a strict guideline with no flexibility; it gave judges the option to go outside the guidelines when he/she thinks it necessary. In this case the judge would be required to provide and explanation for why he went outside the guidelines. Ideally this would involve making the law as simple and easy to understand as possible. One problem is that there are so many different laws about so many different subjects that people don't even know what the law is. There is no guarantee that these guidelines are ideal but by putting it in writing and showing the work they can enable them to find and fix any mistakes that may be in there. Unfortunately these guidelines whether these guidelines are perfect or not were never implemented and the current system is highly inconsistent. There were politicians and commentators calling for tougher penalties and fewer excuses. These calls for tougher penalties also hampered research into the causes of crime and prevented people from understanding the most effective ways to prevent crime.
Punishment does work as a deterrent if the individual cares about the future and he thinks there is a good chance of getting caught. However this isn’t always the case so it is important not to rely solely on punishment. Punishment should be combined with education programs and most important prevention programs. People are much more likely to respect the rights of others if they have a reasonable life and others respect their rights. This is why abuse victims and social outcasts are often more likely to commit crimes.
In order to understand what the most effective guidelines to prevent further crimes it would help to have an organized list of different guidelines from different states and countries for their punishment guidelines. This won’t be the only contributing factor but it will be a step in the right direction. Additional information about other contributing factors should be added in as soon as possible.
The most important set of guidelines for punishment may not be the ones in criminal law for adults but the guidelines for little children. The reason for this is that this is where the education system and justice truly starts. The precedent set here should be carried over into the adult justice system. If there is a good system in the early child hood education system it will be much easier to set up a system for adults. The earlier intervention and rehabilitation happens the more likely it is to succeed. There is often a belief that rehabilitation doesn’t work, in the most extreme cases this is probably true but the reason it is true is because they didn’t address the problem soon enough. There are few people if any who would argue that someone like Gary Ridgeway or Richard Ramirez can be rehabilitated adequately enough so they can be returned to society. According to Dr. Stanton E. Samenow the most extreme felons are not susceptible to rehabilitation because they never had a sense of order to begin with. The biggest reason for this is that most serial killers suffered from a brutal upbringing that made them very angry and emotionally unstable. They are so far gone it is hard to imagine that they can ever be safely released. For those that believe that their rough childhood should be considered mitigating circumstances it is usually to avoid the death penalty and perhaps to obtain more privileges within prison. The fact that they are already so violent and that violent upbringing creates more predators is another reason to make sure they don’t have an opportunity to abuse members of the next generation. TV lawyers that try vigorously to get people like this off are for the most part done for propaganda purposes or drama I suspect.
This doesn’t mean that all felons are beyond rehabilitation but the ones that are treated the earliest and with the proper education programs are the ones that will be the most successful. There are often objections to providing educational opportunities to felons that aren’t provided to others. The most effective way to address this is to try to provide more educational opportunities for everyone. This can be done by making information more readily available to everyone in an organized fashion. The internet could be a very effective way of improving that. The more social injustices are reduced the less likely we are to have a big problem with crime.
Another important thing to make punishment more effective would be a more effective way to provide equal opportunities for legal defense. The current system provides much more lenient punishment for the rich than for the poor. Looking at social justice before it gets to the courts is also very important to make punishment more effective. If a class of society doesn’t believe they’re going to get a fair shake they are much less likely to care about punishment. If they are often subject to unfair treatment whether they commit a crime or not they may not care about punishment. If they don’t care about their own future punishment won’t deter them, they’ll just be concerned about living for the moment. If they only care about living for the moment they’re not going to let the threat of long term punishment deter them.
My point isn’t that punishment shouldn’t be part of the system it is an important part of the system but it shouldn’t be the sole focus of the effort to prevent crime nor should it be considered the most important effort.
(For more information on Blog see Blog description and table of context for most older posts.)