Consequences for Crime
I was asked what I think about capital punishment a few months ago and immediately responded by dropping to a very abstract level of thought, responding that one’s view of capital punishment depends on one’s philosophy of criminal justice in the first place; what is the reason we do anything about crimes?
I think this is important to understand for two reasons. One is that it takes controversial topics such as the death penalty out of the realm of emotion and makes it so we can have actual, rational discussion with people about the issue. The other is that the philosophy of criminal justice is important for all citizens to give good thought to because when ultimate power rests with the people, ultimate responsibility for the actions of the State also rests with the people. Each time someone is executed in the state you are a citizen of, you are responsible. You should probably give that responsibility some thought.
Given the above, here are a few reasons to have consequences for crime. I don’t think they are all of them. Yeah, I made some of the words up (English is a great language).
Punitive: The criminal did something bad and so must be punished. Something unpleasant must happen to them, simply because that is justice. Corporal and capital punishment fit nicely into this. Cable TV in prison doesn’t.
Restorative: If something bad happens to criminals, they will have “paid their debt to society” and so society can welcome them back without holding a grudge. Capital punishment doesn’t fit so well into this one, and neither do life imprisonments. Long imprisonments are also frowned on.
Atone-ative: The criminal hurt someone, so the criminal should fix whatever was hurt. Prison doesn’t fit into this at all. Returning stolen property, repairing damaged property, and removing graffiti all fit nicely into this.
Preventative: If something bad happens to people who do bad things, other people will think twice before doing bad things. Public punishments fit this the best. Stocks, public floggings, public hangings and burning at the stake. Crucifixion is the classic example. Disappearing people can work too.
Redemptive: If something bad happens to someone who did something bad, they don’t have to feel guilty about it anymore, knowing they were punished for it. Something visceral, like corporal punishment, or material, like a fine, probably fit this the best.
Protective: If we separate bad people from the rest of society, they can’t hurt society anymore. Life imprisonment and the death penalty fit this the best. Laws about sex offenders and where they can live and how they have to make their presence known also fall into this category.
Remedial: If we help criminals become better people, they won’t do bad things again. Pretty much anything that lets a criminal go free at the end of the sentence fits this- in theory. In reality, a lot of what is ostensibly designed to remediate prisoners actually institutionalizes them and confirms them into a patten of recidivism.
Surely, there are more reasons. Can you think of any more? What assumptions about crime and human nature would be attracted more by some of these and repulsed by others? After thinking about criminal justice this way, should we re-evaluate the (pretty limited) set of consequences for crime that we currently utilize? Specifically, should we stop imprisoning so many people?