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Thread: Crime and Punishment

  1. #1
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Crime and Punishment

    “Crime and Punishment”; nothing pretentious about that for an FAC thread title, huh? (and none the worse for having been used by someone else before)

    We’ve had a few threads over the years about crime. This thread is intended specifically to discuss our views on the underlying purpose the penal systems of our governments serve.

    Laws are created by governments so as to effect Order. The three basic purposes of a penal code are:
    1. Deterrent effect – punishment is doled out to whomever is caught breaking the law. The more harsh or severe the punishment the greater the deterrent effect. Who would be willing to risk getting caught stealing if the punishment is to be stripped, coated in honey and tied/staked in front of an ant colony? If a death penalty is enforced for certain laws it has the additional bonus of eliminating the possibility of repeat offenses.
    2. Removal effect – as mentioned above, the death penalty has the effect of removing perceived threats from society permanently! Most governments, however, rely on imprisonment as the principle means of punishment. Individuals convicted of breaking laws are removed from society and contained with others who share the same fate for the duration of however many years they are sentenced. While incarcerated the criminals pose no threat to society.
    3. Reform effect – the idea behind this underlying view is that some individuals resort to crime because they either lack skills to be productive members of society; posses some attitudes that run counter to goals of government; or just are just plain ignorant of society’s dictates/needs and require training/re-education. Recidivism should presumably diminish as successful attempts to reform are employed.

    The three philosophical bases listed are portrayed in a black and white fashion, but realistically most penal codes are some combination of all three. Do you think lengthy prison sentences generally result in offenders experiencing remorse or contrition for their criminal acts? Do you think the imposition of lengthy prison sentences diminish the incidence of people doing stupid things (e.g. drunk driving, robbing liquor stores when they’re 16, etc.)? What sort of retraining or education could be provided for someone convicted of some ‘white collar’ crime? If indeed a successful penal code is a combination of all three bases, how then are judges to know which sentence is to work most effectively in a given case? How can we ensure among judges that this same intelligent discrimination is applied uniformly?

    Criticisms of the US penal system are varied, on one side of the aisle we have folks screaming that judges are too lenient and that too many opportunities for appeals exist, on the other side we have folks screaming that implements like the '3 strikes' law are blunt instruments poorly suited to make any distinctions as to the nature/severity of offense.

    Let’s hear your thoughts on crime and punishment.
    Last edited by Maister; 10 Sep 2007 at 11:48 AM. Reason: Added point about sentencing procedures
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Captain Worley's avatar
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    Well, I taught drafting for two years at a medium security prison, so I can give you some real insight as to what it is like.

    Reform is a waste. Sure, it is nice to learn a trade, but 98% of the people in there will be back within a year of release. They learned crime at a very early age, and for most of them going to prison is just another stage in life.

    Most of them view prison as a bad summer camp. the food sucks, they hate the counselors, but all their friends are there. There really isn't a lot of deterrent. Most of them played b-ball or hand ball all day, then watched TV until about 10. Not really a whole lot of punishment.

    My TA was a lifer. He, and all the guys that had served more than ten years said sentences of less than five years was a waste. Not very many start to realize they are being penalized and begins to realize they need to change their ways until around five years. To a man, none of the guys serving the long sentences said they 'got it' until after five years had gone by.

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    We send juveniles to reformatories. We send adults to penitentiaries. We do so because our society feels under-age people have not developed full cognitive skills. They deserve a chance to see the error of their ways and make something good of their lives. Adults, society reasons, make bad decisions consciously and may need to be removed from society to pay for their crimes and let society have a break from their bad decisions.

    We cannot reform adult criminals. Adult criminals are responsible for their own reformation. We probably cannot reform juvenile criminals, but they are children, so we try.

    I think we should treat prisoners humanely, but that doesn't mean we cannot and should not make prison really unpleasant. I advocate working them hard. From sun up to sundown. Six days a week. Doing something constructive and physical, if possible. If not, just have them move 20 pound rocks all day from one end of the yard to the other. This will keep them too tired and busy to plot escapes, school themselves in how to be a better criminal, and commit crimes against each other. It will instill in them that they do not want to come back to prison ever.

    I believe that parole is a privelege that should be granted for exemplary behavior. I do not advocate automatically giving prisoners "good behavior" rewards off their sentences. If you get 20 years, you should serve 20 years. If you behave yourself you should get special priveleges in prison (better work assignments, better living conditions), but not release.

    That being said, I also believe that the police, prosecutors and judges too often do a poor job getting the bad people off the streets and a worse job keeping innocent people from going into prison. Every time an innocent person is finally freed from unjust imprisonment, I feel ashamed of our nation. As I have stated before in another thread, these convictions of the innocent is principally why I oppose capital punishment.

    We have a good system, but we can always do better.
    Last edited by otterpop; 10 Sep 2007 at 12:47 PM.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

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  4. #4
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Laws are created by governments so as to effect Order. The three basic purposes of a penal code are:
    1.Deterrent effect
    2.Removal effect
    3.Reform effect
    I'm not sure anyone has time to address this one but I'll wade in to part of it. First, I'm not sure that there would be agreement on your basic thesis that
    Laws are created by governments so as to effect Order.
    There is also the view that laws are primarily created to improve the condition of mankind. That would tend to be the view of those who believe that the individual will/can/should be reformed by their punishment. There are other views as well. But that can be the topic of another thread.

    My personal view on the three basic purposes that you presented is that the Deterrent effect is similar to a lock on your door, it tends to keep honest people honest. The Removal effect is what we have and the Reform effect is what we hope will happen but we don't want to pay for it.

    How can we insure consistency in judicial decisions? We can't. Even eliminating quality of legal representation and other social and economic factors, punishment isn't entirely based on the single crime but also on the criminal history of the individual. Judges and juries aren't consistent in their application of punshment because they're not machines. If consistency of punishment is required, then discretion has to be taken out of the equation.
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

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    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Captain Worley View post
    Reform is a waste. Sure, it is nice to learn a trade, but 98% of the people in there will be back within a year of release. They learned crime at a very early age, and for most of them going to prison is just another stage in life.

    Most of them view prison as a bad summer camp. the food sucks, they hate the counselors, but all their friends are there. There really isn't a lot of deterrent. Most of them played b-ball or hand ball all day, then watched TV until about 10. Not really a whole lot of punishment.

    My TA was a lifer. He, and all the guys that had served more than ten years said sentences of less than five years was a waste. Not very many start to realize they are being penalized and begins to realize they need to change their ways until around five years. To a man, none of the guys serving the long sentences said they 'got it' until after five years had gone by.
    Just trying to understand your view more clearly are you saying reform is a waste in all instances? If a prisoner's view is that they are spending time at a 'bad summer camp' why would they 'get it' after five years? Would a 'gulag' approach (doing some unpleasant labor in an unpleasant environment) be a more effective deterrant in your view? Would our penal system be better served to more closely resemble the old Soviet model (like what otterpop appears to be saying)?

    Quote Originally posted by ofos
    There is also the view that laws are primarily created to improve the condition of mankind
    Think of it in the broadest philosophic terms....order is a precondition for improvement. Laws provide standards whereby right/wrong and distinctions thereof can be measured by. For example if one of our goals in improving the condition of humanity is to reduce violence, we pass laws prohibiting unacceptable violent behaviors. They are a means to an end.
    Last edited by Maister; 10 Sep 2007 at 12:38 PM. Reason: otterpop and ofos clarification
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  6. #6
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Currently for the most part punishment in the prison or even jail system is a joke. Inmates often have access to cable TV, work out facilities, books, and other forms of entertainment. While yes, there is a secondary punishment system based on inmate social status which can cause substantive physiological and physical damage, it is minimal at best.

    My uncle is a prison guard and he said that it for the most part is a waste of the tax payers money. Often the education in a prison is not for the person to be a productive member of society, but quite the opposite. Gangs are formed and the education is how to commit the crime without getting caught. Ironically if they are in the education, everyone had gotten caught.

    I welcome the death penalty all murder cases where the jury finds the defendant guilty. Additionally that plea deals should never be offered to a murder one suspect. I think that there should be a 30 day time line from date of conviction to execution. I don’t think that there should be any case where a judge can decide on a letter penalty. If the charged person wants to appeal the ruling, they have one business day to file the paperwork to state Supreme Court and a hearing must be set with 20 days. If found not guilty, their lives may be spared but a lesser penalty for murder is still not applicable. If not overturned, they are done.

    For violet crimes, including manslaughter, the punishment should be “Hard Time” in which case that block of the prison is put on a chain gang working in an area that has no possible contact with the public. This includes digging ditches (by hand) for utility pipes, planting trees for other crops, picking crops, or similar activity. They will be informed before hand that if they try to escape they will be killed. If they cause harm to each other, they will be shot and killed. If they do anything thing that could cause a disruption, they will be put in solitary confinement for a month.

    For non-violent crimes, they should also do “Hard Time” because their actions were not violent, they could be on chain gangs that do cleanup on the sides of the roads, sweeping sidewalks, picking up trash in the cities, and similar activities. They will have the same restrictions if they try to escape, cause harm, or disruption as those who committed violent crimes.

    Repeat offenders will get harder and harder and violent punishments including but not limited to caning or being secured to a post in violent weather conditions, in addition to the chain gang.

    The number one part of the problem is that as a society, we are reactionary. We do not do enough to prevent crimes. In fact, in some social groups, crime is seen as a badge of honor and respect. Parents don’t do enough to prevent their kids from getting involved with the wrong kids of activities and crime (and the acceptance of it) is just further proof of societal decay.

    It is not just enough to not commit a crime; society can not be tolerant of it anymore. As an example, people should step up and report a crime as soon as they see it happening. People should try to prevent those crimes which they know are occurring if they are not violent. Prevention and social intolerance is the only way to truly change the system.
    If you're not growing, you're dying. - Lou Holtz

  7. #7
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    The number one part of the problem is that as a society, we are reactionary. We do not do enough to prevent crimes.
    So more vigorous enforcement is needed.... should we quintuple the number of IRS auditors? Pass laws prohibiting hate speech? Manditory jail sentences for moving violations? Would locking up folks that display bad attitudes that promote the glorification of crime be effective/necessary?
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  8. #8
    Having been the vicitim of a crime, I can tell you I don't think very much of the criminal justice system at the local level. How somebody can go from a Class "D" felony for DUI, second offense, to a Class "A" misdemeanor reckless driving -- essentially equal to failure to stop at a stop sign -- after causing more than $25,000 damage (in aggregate) is beyond me. To see the guy walk with a 180 day sentence, 178 suspended, two to serve, and then find his sorry butt back in jail time and time again, is FRUSTRATING!!!

    Okay, I'm going to take a walk to get my blood pressure back down...

  9. #9
    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    So more vigorous enforcement is needed.... should we quintuple the number of IRS auditors?
    Please Dear God, NO! My observation is that we're too damn litigious as a society. We (The U.S.) have managed to create legal and tax codes of incredible size and complexity. Hell, we're all criminals in ways that we aren't even aware of. Lack of enforceability is the only thing that saves us from ourselves!!!!!!
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

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    Cyburbian Captain Worley's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Just trying to understand your view more clearly are you saying reform is a waste in all instances? If a prisoner's view is that they are spending time at a 'bad summer camp' why would they 'get it' after five years?
    Yes, reform is a waste of time ind effort in a vast majority of cases. I pretty much wasted two years of instructional time.

    I didn't say five years, that's what the long term prisoners felt from their experiences.

    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Would a 'gulag' approach (doing some unpleasant labor in an unpleasant environment) be a more effective deterrant in your view? Would our penal system be better served to more closely resemble the old Soviet model (like what otterpop appears to be saying)?
    Oh yes. Most criminals turn to crime because they are lazy. Put them to work, and it gives them heavy incentive not to return. I lost 20% of every class the first week because they didn't want to DRAW for God's sake.

    gedunker, if you think of it as lagal system, not a justice system, it'll make more sense.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 10 Sep 2007 at 1:18 PM. Reason: double reply

  11. #11
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    So more vigorous enforcement is needed.... should we quintuple the number of IRS auditors? Pass laws prohibiting hate speech? Manditory jail sentences for moving violations? Would locking up folks that display bad attitudes that promote the glorification of crime be effective/necessary?
    There are certain industries that would no doubt like to see this happen. I heard a very sobering and depressing story on NPR a few years back (actually a multi-day series) on the prison system and the private industries that have grown up around it. The story I heard was based at a convention for companies providing services to prisons that touted the slogan "The Prison System is a $XXXBillion Dollar a Year Enterprise - What are YOU Waiting for?"

    The troubling part of the story was that in every state there are lobbyists paid by this association to encourage stiffer penalties and greater jail time for minor offenses. The motive here is not based on a desire to control crime or reform the system - it is simply to put more people in jail, so that they can make more money. Building new prisons, selling the jails uniforms, providing cleaning supplies, cleaning services, phone service, locksmith companies, food service, and so many more that I never even thought of. These companies stand to make a lot of money as we jail more and more people for less and less severe crimes.

    I have a similar gripe with the proliferation of jails whose management has been outsourced to private companies. These companies, of course, want to maximize profit and minimize expense and so the prisons are often understaffed and under trained. We have had numerous incidents here in New Mexico with jails run by, no kidding, an outfit called "Wackenhut" with prisoner protests (some peacable and reasonable - like illegal sanitation practices and inadequate medical care from resulting public health problems) and even outright riots (where not enough guards meant inmates overran the place with relative ease).

    Personally, I am against the death penalty for any crime (hey, I'm a Quaker...) and I also have a hard time feeling that reform is not possible for *anyone* because I am not convinced that the system is structured in a way that we can say we have actually, really tried. I recognize that there are bad folks out there who for whatever set of complicated reasons will never ever be productive members of society, but I think a great deal about the prison environment actually comforts first timers and schools them in a life of crime. We are, in many ways, perpetuating and even training criminals with the current model. Rather than presenting alternatives for one's future, the current system actually puts them in direct contact with a whole slew of criminals and generates an atmosphere of crime being a legitimate occupation. "Just wait til I get out. I'll be a better criminal than ever..."

    I also know a few people who have done work in women's facilities and, as I understand it, the recitivism rate for female offenders is much lower than for men. I think it would be foolish to write off the entire prison population as hopeless.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  12. #12
    Cyburbian estromberg's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    For violet crimes, including manslaughter, the punishment should be “Hard Time” in which case that block of the prison is put on a chain gang working in an area that has no possible contact with the public. This includes digging ditches (by hand) for utility pipes, planting trees for other crops, picking crops, or similar activity. They will be informed before hand that if they try to escape they will be killed. If they cause harm to each other, they will be shot and killed. If they do anything thing that could cause a disruption, they will be put in solitary confinement for a month.
    I agree, I would love to see a return to chain gangs, make them work...essentially a prison CCC. We as taxpayers should get something for our $30K+ it costs to warehouse people each year. I don't feel that life in prison without the possibility of parole should be done, just execute them. Why pay all that money to house them for 50 years? That is $1.5m what could have been spent on something other than the prison industrial complex, however therein lies the rub, just follow the money... there's a lot of money to be made on warehousing people and building bigger warehouses.

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    Cyburbian otterpop's avatar
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    I have thought that maybe there should be professions that prisoners prepare for and when they get out, they work in said profession. For example, locksmiths . Kidding!

    Let's say, it is welding. Prisoners are trained in welding, then have marketable skills when they get out. Of course, eventually, maybe every welder would be an ex-con and there would be a stigma associated with being a welder. On the other hand, it would be easier to keep tabs on the cons on parole. The parole officer will know right where they are and can check up on a couple in one visit.
    "I am very good at reading women, but I get into trouble for using the Braille method."

    ~ Otterpop ~

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    Cyburbian ofos's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by otterpop View post
    I have thought that maybe there should be professions that prisoners prepare for and when they get out, they work in said profession. For example, locksmiths . Kidding!

    Let's say, it is welding. Prisoners are trained in welding, then have marketable skills when they get out. Of course, eventually, maybe every welder would be an ex-con and there would be a stigma associated with being a welder. On the other hand, it would be easier to keep tabs on the cons on parole. The parole officer will know right where they are and can check up on a couple in one visit.
    It's pretty common in this area of the country that many A/C repair guys learn their trade in the slammer. Look for prison/gang type tatoo's when your repair guy shows up!
    “Death comes when memories of the past exceed the vision for the future.”

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