Monday, July 2, 2012

Deterrence or Retribution

Pay for your crime or deter the next guy? Why and how do we set punishments?
This is linked to the discussion on another blog about paroling minors who have committed violent offenses. I tend to agree with trying to figure out if the offender is 'cured', but just can't figure out how.
And then the mind works, and I began to wonder if we should set our punishments to deter or for retribution. An eye for an eye is retribution, and, some would argue, a darn good deterrent, but crime rates go up and down, even as punishments go up and down. And they go up and down as punishments stay the same.
Look, we tell our kids, "don't do that or..." hoping the 'or' is enough to keep the kids from doing whatever it was we were trying to deter. With mine it was a grinder for any tattoo. Three boys, no tattoos so far, I guess it worked! And those parents who do not follow through with the threatened punishment soon learn that the threats are largely ignored.
It's the same for criminals, is it not? Capital punishment for first degree murder? Poorly used, and the criminals know that.
According to the article, cited below, during the enlightenment the classical version of criminology took shape and we imperfect humans began to realize that if we wanted people to stop committing crimes, our rulers would have to treat us fairly. So, out goes the torture chambers (sort of) and in comes punishments that fit the crimes, in the hopes that people would be afraid to commit them. It worked for a time, and a large portion of humanity is raised with the inherent fear of punishment.
But then came the humanist and liberals, questioning every punishment, justifying almost every manner of criminal behavior with societal ills, and limiting punishments.
So now criminals know that a simple assault (which could result in serious damage to the assaulted) won't even result in jail time.
Too long, too much to discuss...sorry folks...if you have an hour, go read the journal article.

Deterrence would work if we actually followed through, just like with our kids.

PATERNOSTER, R. (2010). HOW MUCH DO WE REALLY KNOW ABOUT CRIMINAL DETERRENCE?. Journal Of Criminal Law & Criminology100(3), 765-823.

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