Thursday, 25 February 2010

The Crime & Punishment Disconnect

Here we go again, talking about tougher sentences to stop X. At this time, this week, X is equal to assaults on cops. A few weeks ago X was equal to ill treatment of animals. No doubt in a fortnight X will be equal to something else entirely.

But I'm not convinced that tougher sentences for the crime of X actually does act as the detterent that the Sensible Sentencing Trust claim.

Because, and I think this is quite important, when someone commits a crime they often don't think about getting caught. Or they don't care if they get caught. The consequences of getting caught are not frontmost in their minds at the point of decision-making, particularly not when they are drunk, drugged or emotional.

So tougher/longer/harder sentences that supposedly scare people off doing X possibly aren't going to do that at all. Put simply; when someone is doing the crime they probably aren't thinking about doing the time.

Thus I reckon we should focus more on the connections all people have with the society they live in, and the other people in that community with them. That's the stuff that protects us against crime; citizens who feel they are a part of something, along with their neighbours and the people on the next block, and the ones in the suburb on the other side of the city. They have a stake in a decent society, in a community that they respect and which respects them, and they aren't reckless about the consequences of their actions. Why would you care about going to prison, even for years, if you hate your life and you see no way out of it?

And of course we are all good at deluding ourselves into thinking we really are smarter than the average bear; and that we will get away with stuff. Everyday we hear of court cases where the accused got arrogant. Just look at all those white collar criminals in the dock recently who convinced themselves that what they were doing was ok, was in the best interests of their clients, wasn't really fraud.

That's my theory anyway. Half a law degree doesn't really give me any insight at all into criminal psychology. So I'd be interested in your feedback on what seems to me pretty obvious.


Brett Dale said...

It worked for New York.

McFlock said...

Actually, one of the major justifications for the "broken windows" enforcement policy in New York to which I assume Brett is referring is the property crime deterrent effect when communities are visibly involved in the maintenance of public areas. This translates into individuals' greater integration into the local community and participation in general public safety initiatives (e.g. neighbourhood watch or the Guardian Angels programme). So does Brett support Julie's perspective?

Or maybe Brett was referring to the emergence of computerised trend analysis and GIS in law enforcement organisations (LEO) - aka "Compstat", closer command and control between LEO management and patrol officers, improved funding and conditions for LEOs, investment in inner city areas(e.g. Times Square), and a post-cold war federal economy.

If "victory has 100 fathers", crime reduction has 1000.

In short, Brett, freaking loads of books have been written about various facets of the NY crime reduction during the 1990s. "It worked for New York" is just further proof that effective public policy can't be written on the back of an envelope.