Crime and Punishment
I can’t get too excited about victimless crimes, that is to say crimes in which the only victim is the person committing it. Those who want to self-destruct – provided the consequences are not shouldered by others – have the right to do it. Everyone has the moral responsibility for their own person.
Crimes against others is another matter. Nobody has the right to inflict physical harm on another. Nor does anyone have the right to harm us emotionally or economically. There are degrees of damage, obviously. Defamation does not bring the harm that torture, rape or murder does. In a just world, the punishment must fit the crime.
Perfect justice must begin with absolute proof of guilt. Such is often not the case as evidenced by the numerous prisoners exonerated by DNA testing. Punishment meted out unfairly is one of the cruelest forms of torture. The desire to give innocence every chance to emerge is perhaps in large measure the reason our criminal justice system often bogs down with technicalities and loopholes. If a person is guilty of violent crime what do we do then? The first step in a rational approach is to decide whether we want violent criminals to be free to roam our streets. We could be “kind and understanding” and let them go after a little counseling. But the evidence does not demonstrate that works. To be safe we’d all have to arm ourselves as increasing numbers of violent criminals roamed the streets.
If we are to protect ourselves from such criminals, there are two logical choices:
1. We lock them away in a box six feet under ground after executing them. The most just way to do the killing is exactly the way they did it to their victim. That is a permanent solution, sure and just but it makes me uneasy since there is almost always the question of true guilt.
2. We lock them away in some type of secure institution. Since I am trying to come up with a logical solution, that institution would not be our present prison system.
The second option leaves room for the possibility of exoneration with new exculpatory evidence. But if not prison, what? Criminals should be put on secure restitution work farms instead. There they will toil producing useful labor or goods for society commensurate with the damage they have done. The victim’s medical bills, lost work and incapacities must be paid for by the offender. Moreover, all the costs to society for investigations, trials and room and board while incarcerated must be paid. (A great motivation for those guilty to admit it and reduce the legal costs.) The time it takes for economic restitution would by and large dictate the length of the term. For example, if you attack another, incapacitating them, then you get to spend whatever time is necessary earning the money to take care of them. Those who take another’s life must substitute their own life with a lifetime of productive work to repay society and the victim’s family.
Isn’t this an obvious solution? Mere imprisonment with society picking up the tab for the police and legal work and the maintenance of the criminal is nuts. Why should the victim and society pay for the evils of the wrongdoer?
How do you force someone in prison to work off his or her debt? Give them a choice. Either do it or go without food and shelter. That is the law that works throughout nature so why not apply it to humans? How do you maintain discipline on the farm? Well, a hard day’s work will leave little energy for much more than rest. As it is now, prisoners sitting in cells all day have nothing other to do with their energy than scheme more wrongdoing. With my idea those who are a problem get penalized with an extension of their stay and longer work shifts.
This is a fair and just way to deter crime and offset the damage created by it. It does not have the potential of unjustly taking the life of another since time would be provided for proof of innocence. And I’m not talking chain gang here, but rather passable work and living conditions with the product of labor going where it should, to the victims and society. U.S. companies are always looking for a cheaper labor force. Well here it is, right on our own shores numbering in the tens of thousands.
There is nothing better to sober someone up and drain them of the energy to think up nefarious deeds than a hard day’s work. For minor offenders who have a stint in these restitution farms and are then released, they will know what work is, actually improve their resume, spread the word on the street that crime means hard work and be motivated not to return. If they repeat offend, then society will not be the one to suffer. Criminals should be self-maintaining, even a profit center rather than an economic sinkhole.
Our present penal system does not work. It is a huge and unjust cost to society. To many it neither serves as punishment nor deterrent. About three quarters of all U.S. prison space has been built in the last decade. Just in California the chances that a person either lives or works in a prison is 1 in 200.
It’s a crazy state of affairs. I wish I could be warden of the world tomorrow and fix it all.