Crime and Punishment – is it Working?

The way we in America deal with people that are consider socially unacceptable is to make up laws against then turning offenders into criminals.  A system exists to deal with criminals consisting of law enforcement arresting these individuals, trying them in a court of law, then incarcerating those found guilty.  Some laws are not based upon dealing with harmful behaviors, rather have their origins in religious morality.  The victimless crime of prostitution is one instance of one of the oldest trades of man being made illegal due to moral reasons.

Little effort is ever spent on evaluating whether a given law actually solves the problem it is intended to address.  A case in point is our narcotics laws.  We allow alcohol, which is addictive and harmful, to be legal solely because of its social acceptance but we outlaw other narcotics.  This creates a thriving illegal narcotics industry due to the high prices of drugs requiring even more laws and far more effort to enforce than punishing the people actually using drugs.  Other people also become victimized from drug related crimes.

Then there are all the other crimes such as stealing, robbery, burglary, assault, rape, and so on.  Law enforcement tries its best to catch these criminals.  Then the court system takes over and tries them and incarcerate those who are found guilty.  But in the majority of cases those who have served their time simply go back to doing the vary things that got them incarcerated.

Perhaps its the way we approach problems that is wrong.  We constantly seek quick fixes hoping that removing criminals will eliminate and discourage crime.  But prisons harden criminals and most eventually reenter society to repeat their crimes.  Life teaches us that quick fixes seldom work.  Yet we never seem to learn such lessons.  Clearly the data is there showing our failures but it seems convenient for us to ignore data and stick to things we know best how to do badly.

We never want to fix the source of problems because it takes too long and seems to costs too much.  In fact what we are doing now cost far more in terms of money, lives, and resources in the long run because fundamental problems are not addressed.  Our prisons are so full that we are letting criminals out early or not even incarcerating them but putting them back in the public under parole.

It is time we found permanent solutions to our problems.  We should start by eliminating victimless crimes so that law enforcement can focus on more serious matters.  For example prostitution should be legalized, taxed, and controlled.  Narcotics should be decriminalized and treated like alcohol and taxed accordingly to pay for drug interdiction programs.  This will remove almost all the violent crime related to it just as the repeal of Prohibition did in 1933.  Let’s use the money we save on crimes to declare war on poverty which will help reduce more crimes as a consequence of poverty.

Of course there will always be those who say this will cost too much or take too much time or create more people with drug dependance or deprive us of the right to own guns, etc.  But crime today is far too pervasive and costly.  Lasting solution may sometimes be costly in the beginning but as crime decreases with time so will those doing time as well as the cost to victims, the government, and law enforcement.  Prisons should be largely about rehabilitation more than incarceration and acting as a revolving door.  They should be about getting and education and developing working skills to reduce recidivism.  They should be about therapy for the mentally ill.  Prisons should be rated by reduced recidivism.  Prisons should not be a means of exacting revenge punishment on criminals.  It might seem right but in the end the criminal simply finds more victims upon release so instead of only one victim there ends up to be many.

We need to change our paradigm of revenge and punishment into one of finding permanent and lasting solutions to eliminating crime by getting to the source of it.  What we are doing now simply doesn’t work.

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2 Responses to Crime and Punishment – is it Working?

  1. Pingback: Capital Punishment | ouR Social Conscience

  2. Pingback: Do American Juries Dispense Justice? | ouR Social Conscience

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