CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Humans, in general, are no longer able to function as gregarious animals guided only by the innate social codes; and must now be controlled by the community’s system of laws and retribution. The most important of society’s ordinances are based on instinctive knowledge of right from wrong. Legal systems are managed by governments which, drawing from their theocratic predecessors, use a method of controls that they consider to be in the best interests of the majority of people. These controls apply, in principle, equally to all individuals, and substitute for the innate ability of same-species creatures to exist in harmony.
Actions are defined as crimes for various reasons. Murder, generally speaking, is counter-productive to the vibrancy of the human race; incest is contrary to the natural checks and balances nature has put in place to prevent it; theft upsets the communal structure of society; and so-called victimless crimes diminish the absolute control of the ruling class. Different governments assign varying levels of punishment for types of crimes: the perceived seriousness of the offense being dependent upon the goals of those in charge, who are the people who represent their society. Governments determine retribution according to either the values held by their particular culture, or through conditioning the masses to believe that specific crimes warrant certain levels of vengeance. Due to the cultural effect, laws fluctuate according to the ideals of the day; and what is considered a minor transgression today, may be a heinous offense a generation from now.
Murder, arguably, is the most serious of actions, and has usually been deemed as deserving of the greatest punishment. Although the crime of murder has been viewed somewhat consistently over the ages, the definition of what constitutes the offense has varied considerably. Until relatively recently, the killing of a slave was a property offense; and before the Common Era, the biblical gods did not consider the killing of servants, nor human sacrifice (to the “correct” deities), as murder. For most of recorded history, killing a woman was a crime against her husband or father, because she was their property. Even now, some patriarchal cultures still do not consider the killing of female infants as a crime, although international pressure has forced their governments to outlaw the practice. To define murder in a way that is acceptable to most cultures of the world, we must confine it to a form that is unacceptable to much of Western society: as the killing of an adult male who shares the same culture, religion, race, and beliefs; and who occupies an adequate social class: all other killing of humans being less of, or not even, a crime.
Murder is usually qualified by the principle of sufficient cause: killing someone who is attempting to take your life is not a crime, while killing an individual who has insulted you, is. Sufficient cause is subject to interpretation, and therefore cannot be applied fairly. In Western society, many shopkeepers have been acquitted of murder, when they have killed people who were attempting to rob them; yet a Black drug-user who kills someone who is trying to steal his illicit drugs, will be convicted. Both are instances of persons placing the value of material goods, over that of a human life; and both are equal in principle: the fact that the drugs are illegal to possess has no bearing on the capital offense. The cultural effect means that society interprets the same actions differently, according to status and race; and places a different value on each killer, through presumption of guilt. Fundamentally, the shopkeeper and the drug-user are both murderers, because the worth of replaceable goods does not equal the worth of a unique human life: their actions cannot be logically justified. Theft is a crime: but not one that warrants the death penalty.
The most serious of crimes are sometimes punished with death, although what is considered to be a serious offense is subject to the views of the society in which it occurs. In many countries, murder is the only crime deemed to be deserving of execution; while in others, such as China, drug trafficking is as well. In some Islamic states, adultery is punishable by death. Capital punishment is the ultimate form of vengeance inflicted by society, and is used to prevent recidivism: persons killed by the legal system will definitely not commit any more crimes. Obviously execution is not used for rehabilitation nor, contrary to the beliefs of some people, does it serve as a deterrent: numerous studies done in countries that have switched between imposing and banning the death penalty, prove there is no affect on the crime rate.
There are several reasons why punishment does not deter crime. The major factor is that people do not normally commit illegal acts with the intent of being caught: the fact that others have been apprehended for an offense, does not mean that they will be as well. If a person thought that they would undoubtedly face punishment for their deeds, they would be rather unlikely to break the law. Another reason that the threat of revenge does not dissuade criminals, is because many crimes are committed without thought: a situation or opportunity arises, and a culprit simply reacts. Most people are very shortsighted, and rarely pause to consider the consequences of their actions: therefore we have events that are referred to as “crimes of passion” and “spur of the moment”.
Victimless crimes aside; laws are normally broken for one of five reasons: need, material gain, predation, ethics, and psychotic motivation. There are many laws in place where these criteria do not apply; but such regulations are intended only to keep the masses obedient and conformist: and must be treated as a separate level of control.
Need is the most valid reason for the commission of a crime. A starving person may steal food, or a freezing one, clothing. Desperate need will overrule society’s limits: when the choice is between life and death, the instinct for survival becomes the primary drive in all but the most disciplined of individuals. Although we live in a world where extreme need should no longer exist, we not only withhold resources from segments of society; we make it impossible to function otherwise. It’s illegal to hunt in order to provide food and clothing, without paying someone for the right to do so. It is illegal to build a permanent shelter in the wilderness for oneself, without paying taxes to the government. Society requires that self-sufficiency be purchased: in this way, the poor are kept under control; which means that the elite are safe from civil unrest.
Punishment for fulfilling the basic needs of survival is counterproductive. By incarcerating someone for this type of crime, you are satiating their needs during their period of imprisonment, but you have not solved the problem: they will still be released back into the same situation. People should receive guidance and job training, when in desperate straits; not incarceration and fines. It may be more expensive to help, rather than confine; but over the long term the reduction in recidivism will, in reality, have a lower material and human cost. Unfortunately, the people who administer the legal system rarely can conceive of what it is like to be cold, hungry, and desperate.
Crimes committed for material gain are the most common, and range from simple shoplifting, to murder. Although the compulsion to demonstrate superiority (in this case, financial) has an innate sexual cause; the material manifestation of this drive is caused by society. Mankind has created an environment where the accumulation of wealth is the ultimate competition, and due to the fact that having an advantage in this game is merely a happenstance of birth: there are those who feel compelled to cheat, in order to compete. Since society conditions this materialistic desire into its members, and because this attitude benefits the ruling class; we are unlikely to see a substantial reduction in this form of crime without a major change in the very structure of our society.
Humans are predatory by nature, and instinctively prey upon creatures weaker than themselves. However, man is also gregarious by nature, which conflicts with the act of preying upon one’s own species. Being capable of considering other people as suitable for victimization, is indicative of a genetic or psychological disorder. The innate social codes normally moderate the aggressive tendencies; and errors in the genetic programming cause an imbalance. Likewise, mental disturbances induced by trauma or society, also upset this balance.
When laws are broken for ethical reasons, we are seeing two opposing perceptions of right from wrong. An individual may determine that what they believe, is the right thing to do; while deciding that the laws of their particular culture are wrong: or it may actually be a situation in which what is truly right is completely different from what is legally right. Euthanasia is a good example of the conflict between ethics and law. In many countries euthanasia is not a crime, and is even considered to be a demonstration of a high level of compassion. In other nations, it is defined as murder, and can receive the most severe of penalties. How it is viewed is subject to the culture in which it occurs. A person who holds the opinions of one society, yet lives within one that enforces the opposite ideals, is in a situation where adhering to one’s moral values may have dire consequences.
The crime of treason presents an interesting moral dilemma. When someone betrays their own country for ethical reasons, they are considered to have committed an horrendous act: yet if an individual from an opposing nation acts in the same fashion, and benefits your country; theirs is an heroic deed. In this case we can say that each society may consider a person acting with the most altruistic of motives, deserving of the harshest of punishments.
Psychotic individuals who engage in illegal conduct are the most dangerous of offenders: they are the sociopaths; and because theirs is a genetic flaw, they cannot be rehabilitated. Although sociopaths account for only two percent of the populace, studies suggest that they make up twenty percent of the prison population, and may be responsible for over half of chronic criminal behaviour. Since these persons do not experience the normal social emotions, they cannot be affected by remorse, guilt, or altruism in the same way as mentally healthy individuals: this means that punishment only serves to make them more cautious when committing future offenses; it does not deter them.
Laws to prevent “victimless” crimes generally have nothing to do with right or wrong, and are enacted in order to generate revenue for the government and/or justice system, and primarily, to condition the population into conformity. Politicians often refer to these regulations as being in place to “protect you from yourself”: an obviously absurd statement. Statistically you are as likely to be killed driving a new compact car, equipped with seatbelts and airbags; as you would driving an older, large automobile without any restraints. It is a fact that size, and quality of construction, are what determine the level of danger: yet governments make a great deal of money from legislating seatbelt use; and stand to lose a considerable amount of campaign funding by placing the onus on automobile manufacturers.
The number of people who choke to death on hot-dogs is phenomenal, as are the statistics concerning fatalities from slipping in the bathtub; and health problems resulting from obesity are a major cause of death: but consuming hot-dogs, using a bathtub with a smooth coating, and overeating are not illegal. Choosing a hazardous activity to outlaw is somewhat of an arbitrary process, and is not influenced by the actual level of risk. Factors that do contribute to the decision are the aforementioned profitability and suppression of individuality, as well as the impact upon the ruling class, potential loss of votes, and political pressure from vocal special-interest groups.
There are offenses that may, or may not be victimless, depending upon the situation. Drug use is one example. A person can use an illegal drug, without affecting anyone else. If that person habitually uses drugs to the point where it has a detrimental effect on their family, or their own ability to function normally in society: then there are victims. If drug abuse puts them in a position where society must intervene in order to sustain them: then there are victims. There are those who suggest that the criminal activity surrounding the supplying of drugs means that it is never a victimless crime: but this is a misnomer. The subculture that has developed to provide drugs, is the same as the one that arose during Prohibition: its existence is solely due to the fact that the goods it provides have been outlawed. Alcohol is now legal in much of the world, although the abuse of this drug is far more damaging than many of the illicit ones. Prostitution can be defined in a similar fashion. These types of crime exist because a significant portion of the population wants the goods or services, and as long as there is a high level of demand, there will always be those willing to profit from supplying it. We must keep in mind that in countries where acts such as these are illegal, they are crimes only because someone has decided that they are.
The countries of the world have taken various approaches to solving the crime problem. The United States and Canada have led the developed nations in criminal activity for many years: their solution was to institute a system where offenders are far more likely to face prison terms, and ones of longer duration. Unfortunately, all this has accomplished is to make the U.S. and Canada leaders in incarceration rates, as well as crime. Countries that have moved in the opposite direction, and reduced their prison population, have not seen a significant change in criminal activity either way. Likewise, nations that kill people for relatively minor transgressions continue to have an endless supply of victims to execute.
Crime statistics are easily manipulated, simply by leaving out certain categories of offenses, or by choosing only the particular type of act that supports your claim: this is why one group of politicians can “prove” that criminal activity declined while they were in power, while another party can “prove” the opposite using the same information. Comparative raw data can be very misleading, because it is dependent upon each nation’s legislation: what is a crime in one country, is not in another. If one culture is rigidly controlled by the ruling class, it can have thousands of additional laws that do not exist in a society with more freedom: more laws equal more crime.
The truth of the matter is that the systems used to control crime have no significant affect on the rate of crime: levels fluctuate according to the attitudes held by society. The administration of justice has changed very little, on a basic level, over the thousands of years that man has lived within an organized community: and ancient documents indicate that the crime problem has not changed much either. Just as there will always be people who transgress the law; there will always be those who won’t: not because of arbitrary regulations, but due to ethics. Every day, each of us has numerous opportunities to break the law with impunity: but there are people, no matter how poor, who could not even contemplate keeping a wallet found on the street; while there are rich people who shoplift.
The surest way to reduce crime is to cultivate a non-materialistic, non-competitive attitude within society; but due to the way that we have structured our world, that is rather unlikely to occur: the people who control society are dependent upon this structure, in order to hold on to wealth and power. Altering the core beliefs of the masses will take generations to accomplish: but we can make changes that are likely to improve the situation now. Since the systems we are currently utilizing have proven to be ineffective, reason dictates that we attempt a different approach.
The justice system is based on three principles: rehabilitation, deterrence, and preventing recidivism. In reality, if rehabilitation were applied successfully, there would be little need of the other two. Most countries focus on recidivism, and simply incarcerate people in order to prevent them from committing other crimes. Almost no effort is made to rehabilitate prisoners while in custody, and the result is actually contrary to the intent: individuals become better criminals in jail, not better citizens; there is no more suitable place to learn crime. The major problem with placing a person into a subculture made up of antisocial members, is that this group becomes their society: their friends, role models, and even pair-bonds are now fellow prisoners, and their source of behavioural influence. Sooner or later, most of these people are released back into the general population, but often in a worse situation than when they went into prison. After a lengthy period of incarceration, you end up with a person that has no job, and a reduced chance of finding one due to a criminal record. They are likely to have lost their home, and possibly their spouse during their imprisonment; and will not have the financial resources they may have had prior to incarceration. This means that you have created an individual that depends on Welfare for support, has nothing left to lose, and the worst thing they feel can happen to them, is that they will return to their jail sub-culture.
The prison system must be restructured to concentrate on two areas: rehabilitation of those who can be reintroduced into society, and protection of the public from those who cannot. This will require a reevaluation of sentencing practices, as well as restaffing and refurbishing of correctional institutes. For the people who have the potential to be productive members of society, incarceration must be the solution to their problem, and not just a place of confinement. Education to a competent level of literacy, job training, and psychological counseling are the keys to rehabilitation; and combined with goal-oriented sentencing, would be far more effective than current methods.
Goal-oriented sentencing does not set a specific prison term, but confines an individual until certain goals are met. A judge must determine what changes must occur in a person’s behaviour, before they can be released: such as recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction, acquiring job skills, or becoming mentally healthy. A panel of psychiatrists determine when an inmate has fulfilled the objectives set by the courts, and he/she is then eligible for parole. This means that some people will serve substantially shorter sentences, while those who refuse to cooperate will remain in custody. Criminals will no longer be able to simply serve out their sentence: they will have to demonstrate substantial progress toward functioning within society. This now becomes a “reward”, rather than a “punishment”, system; which, psychology has proven, is the far superior method of conditioning. What is to prevent an inmate from refusing to cooperate, because he/she prefers to remain in a therapeutic institution? They risk being labelled as a chronic offender who for psychological or genetic reasons, cannot be reintroduced into the community: and will encounter the other aspect of goal-oriented sentencing.
Some types of criminals pose a perpetual threat to society, and cannot be rehabilitated or cured. These people are primarily sociopathic, and include serial killers, child molesters, serial rapists, and chronic perpetrators. In the case of these individuals, the goal in sentencing is to protect society from their actions, and therefore they must be held indefinitely under maximum security. Ideally, a cure or control will be found for sociopathic disorders: but for now, nothing short of isolation from the public is completely safe. Although many cultures simply execute this type of offender, they are pursuing a shortsighted agenda. Eliminating each particular sociopath does not alter the fact that their numbers increase by 1.5 million each year due to the birth rate alone. This is not to say that all of them will become criminals; for instance: although all serial killers are sociopaths, not all sociopaths are murderers. In fact, this deficiency in social emotions can lead to a successful career in politics or law; and those born into wealth and power may never pose a direct threat to society: but the potential danger, of a sociopath rising to a position of leadership in a country with a strong military force, should never be ignored.
It is necessary to confine and study people who commit serious crimes due to a mental disorder. We must learn the behavioural patterns that indicate their predilection for antisocial activities, in order to enable society to take preventative measures. Studies so far have shown that a history of childhood cruelty to animals, and bedwetting, are strong indicators of future dangerous behaviour: but obviously, not all children who have had these problems grow up to be criminally insane. We need far more information before we can intercept these individuals, prior to their commission of a monstrous act.
People who insist that the material cost of studying aberrant criminals is too high, and suggest that execution is the frugal choice, do not understand the legal system. In developed nations, it actually costs considerably more to carry out a death warrant, than it does to confine someone for life. The alternative is to remove the checks and balances that are in place to ensure that justice is done: but the result of this action would be that even more innocent people would be murdered by the state; a moral cost that is far too high.
The legal system has evolved into more of an instrument of control, than of protection. Courts and police officers direct most of their resources toward enforcing mundane regulations. Far too much time is spent on victimless crime, traffic offenses, and other minor transgressions that do not pose a real threat to society. Although pursuing these petty offenses generates considerable revenue for police departments, most of that money is used to continue prosecuting the same type of activities. This is not only a vicious circle, but often unethical: crimes that are dealt with by imposing set fines, only punish the poor, and are just a minor inconvenience to the wealthy. We must reduce the number of regulations that make crimes of trivial actions; and prompt people to be responsible for themselves, in matters that have little or no affect on others. This may require increased funding of law enforcement; but I believe that the majority of taxpayers would accept this, knowing that the end result would be a decline in serious crime, due to the concentration of resources on crimes that matter.
We must stop differentiating between being guilty, and being not guilty by reason of insanity. Goal-oriented sentencing eliminates the reasons for such categorization, and prevents judges and juries from allowing political and personal biases from influencing their decisions. The case of Jeffrey Dahmer illustrates this bias quite well. Here we have an offender who kidnapped, raped, and ate parts of, young men and boys: he kept human body parts as souvenirs. The courts determined that this man was not insane, due to a fear that he could eventually be released from a psychiatric facility, whereas he would never be freed from prison. To even imply that the actions of such a person are those of a sane individual, brings the whole legal system into question: if this is normal; then what exactly is abnormal? Dahmer was without doubt, an incurable sociopath, and therefore ineligible for release at any time. Most perpetrators of serious crimes are mentally disturbed to some extent, and treatment should be determined by those who are expert in the field of mental health; not by people who are making decisions based on inappropriate criteria. By default, all prisoners should be psychologically evaluated.
The most difficult problem to solve, is inequality in the legal system: the likelihood of someone being found guilty is strongly related to the amount of money they are able to spend on their defense; or in some countries, on bribes. The only way to have equal representation, regardless of social class, is to allow the courts to administer defense in the same way as prosecution. Unfortunately, due to the very nature of law enforcement, this would also be to the detriment of all people charged with an offense. Although some nations suggest that their administration of justice is based on the presumption of innocence; most prosecutors, police, and judges presume that someone suspected of a crime is likely guilty of, if not that particular crime, at least something that would lead officers to lay a charge. As well: you succeed in law enforcement through convictions, and your goal is not to strive for the fair judgment of someone the system, that you are a part of, has accused of a crime; your intent is to ensure that they are found guilty. This zeal for advancement has led to the convictions of people whose only crime was belonging to a segment of society that is considered “unsavory”, and therefore expendable.
Until attitudes change in respect to crime and punishment, we will continue along the same path. The masses will continue to conform to ineffective ideals, and call for retribution rather than rehabilitation. Future criminals will continue to be born at the same rate. The problems associated with society’s obsession with material gain will continue to allow people to justify their criminal tendencies. People will continue to demand that something be done to protect mankind from itself; just as people have done since the beginning of civilization.