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'Crime and Punishment' - Is there another way?

Updated on May 23, 2018
CreeViking profile image

Robin Olsen has lived for half a century and has been educated in fine schools. We learn a lot just going through life and making mistakes.

Is this a sign of a enlightened society?
Is this a sign of a enlightened society?

Is there a Problem?

Why do we lock people up? For some people the answer is quite obvious but our prisons are filled up with many whose threat level towards society is dubious to say the least. Many are locked up simply because they got caught smoking a joint, others for things like evading parking tickets. I once saw a video of police setting up a 'sting' operation to capture and arrest people who had evaded parking tickets and I remembered thinking to myself 'They got 10 cops working this sting just to capture a couple of grannies with outstanding parking tickets – is this really a good use of police resources?'

But yet, whenever the government or legal society or police force talk about 'preventing crime' they always fall back on the tried and untrue method of locking people up for extraordinary lengths of time. Has it ever worked? I'm not talking about the murderers or child predators we lock up for life. It works for them cause we never intend to let them back out again, but what about the thieves and small time drug dealers we lock up? Does it work for them? Never seems to prevent these types from selling drugs and stealing property again so ... why do we keep thinking that the key to prevent crime is to lock people up longer and longer?

Make sure it is money well spent... because it is your money
Make sure it is money well spent... because it is your money

The Cost\Benefit

Locking people up is extremely expensive to the society as a whole. It costs an average of $31,307[1] to incarcerate one individual per year of incarceration. There are roughly 2.4 million prisoners in the United States today. That's the highest concentration of prisoners per national population in the world. It is estimated that fully 25% of all the world's prisoners are Americans in American prisons. Make no mistake about it, the taxpayer and the taxpayer alone foots the entire cost of this on an annual basis. When you do the math it is something like 206 million dollars a day to keep the prison system running in the US alone. You can outsource it all to a private corporation or you can get the government to run it exclusively but, in the end, the taxpayer will always pay for this system.

In exchange for this investment we get repeat offenders committing offences with escalating degrees of seriousness and threat to society as a whole. Does this sound like a good return? Doesn't make sense to me either. So, how do we correct this? Obviously we need to find some other method of punishing criminals, especially non-threatening petty criminals, other than locking them up to the tune of $31,307.00 a year.


Do the numbers add up?
Do the numbers add up?

The Current System

Do you think the current system of punishment is worth the expense?

See results

Jail for traffic offenses? Seriously?

Perhaps it requires a rethinking of exactly what constitutes a 'serious crime' in today's society. Refer back to the beginning of this hub and ask yourself 'Is there another way?'. I think there is. Most western societies require motorists to have registration for their vehicles and driver's licenses. Many of them also require the motorist to be insured against accidents. Access to all of these services can simply be denied as long as there are outstanding violations or fines to be paid. This method removes the local police force from ever having to pursue an individual for any outstanding or unpaid traffic violation of any type again. It also removes the requirement to lock up the serious traffic offenders as a simple denial of services will 'inspire' a more prompt payment schedule 99% of the time.

Should not have to see these guys again after the initial issue of the violation.
Should not have to see these guys again after the initial issue of the violation.

Anyone using a vehicle for violent purposes, impaired driving or other seriously threatening behavior involving a vehicle would of course have to punished accordingly but traffic offenses should not require police involvement beyond initial issue of the violation. When the police come across improperly documented drivers they impound the vehicle. Simple, this does not have to happen too many times to change behavior and it is a very inexpensive form of enforcement. Fine revenues start coming in on a more regular basis and, lets face it, that means less for the general taxpayer to pay out. Better way all around.

Jail for Traffic Offenses?

How do you think basic traffic offenses should be punished?

See results

Petty offenses and first timers - Applying something different - the younger the better.

If you want to change behavior then the earlier you catch the behavior you wish to change and applying any corrective measures the better your chances of actually changing the behavior. Any parent knows this. Why we 'take it easy' on juveniles and then come down hard when they hit the legal age is a anomaly I will never understand. We should seriously be considering some alternatives in our punishment system.

As soon as an offender hits a certain age (I say 17 - but this is debatable) they should be considered for periods of service as punishment. Periods of service, either to the specific community or to the nation state as a whole, were very effective at changing negative social behavior as well as providing guidance on what, exactly, the socially acceptable behaviors are. I say 'were' because such sentences don't seem to be in fashion as much anymore. In fact I do not think they happen at all in North America.

A young offender cannot repay their debt to society from inside this cell. Unless we need to for protection, we should not be putting them here. It only costs us money.
A young offender cannot repay their debt to society from inside this cell. Unless we need to for protection, we should not be putting them here. It only costs us money.

That's too bad. Years ago, when I was a serving member of the Canadian Army, I served with guy who had been 'sentenced' to a minimum period of three years of military service, instead of prison, for some petty theft or whatever. That three years turned a petty thief, on his way to repeated stays in the Canadian prison system, into a tax paying serving member of society. His military career lasted almost 30 years and he saw service all over the world. He never stole from his neighbors again.

What is the point of punishment?

What format should 'punishment' for small time, petty crimes take?

See results

Isn't that a much better ending? Seems to me that this is a lot more beneficial than constantly locking up guys like this over and over again until finally we have had enough and lock them up for life. I wonder how many of the veterans we honor in our societies today started out as petty thieves and small time hoodlums?

I am not saying you give an offender one of the nicest military jobs there are. The options as far as type of service would be limited to something appropriate. If it seems I am favoring a very specific type of 'service' - well I am. Most young and first time offenders lack discipline and direction, this is the primary reason for the offense to begin with, and for any gang affiliations as well. Providing that discipline can be done best by the military. Canada or the US or anywhere else in the western world this will be true.Other forms of service lack the ability to instil the missing discipline the offender will need to prevent further offenses and these types of services should be reserved for older first time offenders where military service would be inappropriate or unviable.

This really isn't that effective in the long run.
This really isn't that effective in the long run.

Not all 'services' are good services.

Most of the job services or other forms of services supposedly designed to help 'reform ' the inmate are not very effective at all and should be avoided. Too often we see stories in the media about local authorities trying this or that type of 'camp' or job program and we all think it's just great, for the most part, but what re formative value do these types or arrangements really have?

Labor camps? Seriously?

Do you think it is right to use prisoners for forced labor?

See results

Labor camps run by law enforcement officials and local sheriffs do not have the same effect that a period of military service would. These types of camps are sometimes seen in the American southern states. The problem with these camps is they fail to instill a long term sense of discipline the petty criminal is lacking to begin with, thus leading to petty crime. The petty criminal has no respect for law enforcement, he may have fear, but not respect. Fear only works when it is constantly maintained. Once the sheriff is no longer watching, the negative behavior returns. A military service, for example, removes the fear of law enforcement and, basically for most of these types, replaces it with a completely unknown environment. This environment will be better able to instill a proper sense of discipline over the long term and will be able to build a relationship of respect, not based on fear, with the petty criminal that could very well turn the individual's life around completely.

Could this be why it is hard to find a job? Do they get a choice?
Could this be why it is hard to find a job? Do they get a choice?

Giving regular jobs to inmates isn't a very good idea either. Did you ever hear the stories of call centers being setup in jails and prisons to 'help the inmates adjust'? Seems like a form of slavery to me. I mean, you don't have to pay these inmates even minimum wage because they are inmates and do the inmates really get a choice regarding if they even want to do the job or not? These types of jobs, performed in prisons, offer no real 'rehabilitation value' as far as changing the patterns of thought and therefore changing the unwanted behavior of the petty criminal. Not to mention the fact that giving inmates these types of jobs denies those jobs to people on the streets, ex-con or otherwise, trying to live an honest life in a bad economy with few or no jobs. Does it make sense to give these jobs to inmates? What kind of message does that send?

How should prisoners be used?

Do you think corporations should be giving jobs to inmates?

See results

No, we should think long and hard about the long term effects these types of programs have and the long term cost, eventually to the tax payer, these programs can generate. They are usually not worth the expense.

This form of deterrence would seem to be ineffective
This form of deterrence would seem to be ineffective

So What are prisons for?

Prisons should be reserved for serious threats to society in general and we should be very specific when determining the level of threat. We need to lock up the murderers, rapists and child predators, these are serious threats to society as a group. Do we really need to lock up car thieves, petty, non-violent drug dealers and property thieves and various other 'nuisance' criminals? Seems excessive and wasteful to do it this way.

This seems like an excellent training ground for crimnals as well as prime recruits for street gangs.
This seems like an excellent training ground for crimnals as well as prime recruits for street gangs.

There should be two tiers of punishment in a society in my opinion and they should be divided along very simple lines. The categories are simple. On one side you have 'Yes we can release them again' and on the other you have 'No these ones need to stay behind bars for a very long time'. Any individual committing a crime involving a threat of violence or harm, or actual act of violence or harm, to another human being is a tier two candidate. The rest are tier ones. Once you have the prisoner population sorted into one of these two tiers you can then determine the best way to get tier one out of the legal system and back into the tax paying revenue generating portion of the population and tier two can be locked away from doing more harm to society. Prisons can then be designed specifically to house tier twos and provide whatever services someone with a long term sentence needs and a society would need far less medium and minimum security institutions required for incarceration of less serious threats.

Do prisons work?

Do you think short term prison sentences are an effective way to prevent a recurrance of crime?

See results
How long can it keep going up?
How long can it keep going up?

But instead ...

Yes, it seems we have some very strange and expensive ideas when it come to the punishment side of 'Crime and Punishment'.

The less incarceration, the greater the benefit to the society as a whole as long as the alternative gets the job done. Most minor criminal behavior, such as ignoring the fines for traffic violations, the example that started my ramblings to begin with, can be altered or seriously discouraged by a simple denial of services, this requires no police at all, never mind 'sting operations designed to incarcerate grandma'. Other non-violent but more serious negative behavior can be corrected (rather than punished) by other forms of service to the society being wronged.

This cost money and should only be used when it has to be used.
This cost money and should only be used when it has to be used.

Do we really want to lock up some petty thief for 5 years or so then release him only to have a criminal record for the rest of their life that we keep bringing up and throwing in the individual's face every time they try to do something honest, like get a job? What message is society sending here?

In a free society that values the concept of 'innocent until proven guilty' we must understand that the concept of 'crime prevention' is kinda irrelevant. I mean, the only thing we can do to truly prevent crime is ensure that the punishment alters the criminal behaviour for those that can be safely released or, if the criminal behaviour is truly a threat, that incarceration is done in the most expedient and secure means possible according to the rules governing the treatment of prisoners within our society.

Is that what we are doing now? I wonder ...

Should we stay the course?

Do you think mandatory prison sentences do anything to prevent a recurrence of crime?

See results

Please rate

4.7 out of 5 stars from 3 ratings of this hub

© 2014 Robin Olsen

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    • CreeViking profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Olsen 

      8 months ago from Rural Canada

      Jay C. O'Brien: I don't think the only people in prisons are rapists, murderers and serial killers - there are lots of people in jail who should not be there as they pose no real threat. Jail is for those who pose a threat not for those who simply drive without privileges for example. Jail is not for vengeance purposes or to make us feel good... if we truly understood the cost to the tax payer most of us would probably say 'wait a minute here why are you locking that guy up again?' And society should have no real interest in pure 'punishment' as this is not beneficial to society. Our focus should be to correct behaviors that are non threatening and lock up the true threats.

      Dan: the US must be different than here - what happens here in Canada is that if you are caught driving without insurance, for example, your car is impounded on the spot - you don't even get to drive yourself home. the fines start at 500 dollars a pop - and that is in the cheap provinces where insurance is blended into the auto registration fee... in places like Alberta the fine can be as high as $2500.00 and in all cases if you are caught without it you lose the vehicle. I an assuming in the US you simply get a court appearance but are allowed to drive away after you are caught. Take away a few vehicles and that may prompt a more responsive attitude out of the individual in question. And impounding a vehicle is FAR cheaper than locking someone up. That actually punishes the tax payer.... Community service is actually a good form of behavior modification... for those who are willing to participate. But for those not cooperating jail is still not the answer, start impounding valuable pieces of property and you should see the same results.

      thank you both for your thoughts on this....

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      8 months ago from Houston, TX USA

      Dan: that is why I am in favor or Artificial Intelligence (AI) cars. The car would drive better than the people and no DWI or DUI.

      FYI: the only people in jail or prison now days are the murders, rapists and serial criminals. The lightweights are let out pretty quickly.

      Yes, these people need education for rehab. On average criminals have a fourth grade education. I worked in the criminal justice system 20 years.

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 

      8 months ago from Boise, Idaho

      One has only to sit through traffic court and count the number of people "driving without privileges" to know that taking those privileges away accomplishes virtually nothing. We take a drivers license, say for drunk driving or excessive speeding tickets, and the offender goes right on driving. Until, that is, they are jailed, whereupon they are off the street.

      Community service as a sentence is alive and well in the US, or at least in my area. It is used for a great many of the more minor offenses and is relatively effective there. I say "relatively" as there are always those that just don't show up; just like driving without privileges until jail time is a real threat there is no reason to put any effort out at all.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      10 months ago

      I do believe those with severe criminal records or tendencies should be put safely away from society but should also be educated or provided therapy.

    • CreeViking profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Olsen 

      2 years ago from Rural Canada

      I agree David that we really need to find a better way for the run of the mill criminal...setting up a university type institution to handle these types is a good idea... providing the 'types' have the discipline to finish what they start... that's the big thing to me is these average run of the mill criminal types (burglars, junkies, etc) don't have a lot of discipline to start with...still some would and that means this idea should definitely be an option for judges to call upon when it comes to what to do with the common non-threatening criminal. Good thoughts

    • David Trujillo profile image

      David Trujillo Uribe 

      2 years ago from Medellin, Colombia

      In my opinion, jails should be more like universities. People make crime for lack of education, job opportunities, or at least the vast majority does.

      So the solution is not to shut them away, it is to educate and let them out when they are prepared to assume a job. IN that scenario jails should have the infrastrusture of a university, libraries, teachers, courses, counselors and a pre-job process.

      This shouldn´t apply to rapist and murderers and others. But the common burglar and junkie that pollutes the jail system.

      ANy thoughts? (found you on facebook group ;)

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      3 years ago from Central New Jersey

      I think a big problem is the profit motive... so much of the American priszon system is privatized.... the tax payer may foot the bill, but the profits are going to corporations and running jails for profit is not a good thing.... thumbs up for shining a light into a dark corner of our criminal justice system.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      3 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      I cannot speak for another (the farmers), but I think it would provide cheap labor, training for the person and a new lifestyle (this is critical). A diffused farming system would also tend to reduce gangs.

    • CreeViking profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Olsen 

      3 years ago from Rural Canada

      Jay C. Obrien - are there any farmers in the US that would consider allowing a convicted man to work on his/her farm? I have heard of this in Canada, it is a format of punishment, for lack of a better word, that is used with Juvenilles but I never heard of it being offered to adults.

      It's a good idea, I wonder if it can get any traction

    • CreeViking profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Olsen 

      3 years ago from Rural Canada

      handymanbill - I agree with you that after a successful period of service the 'convict' should have his record sealed and available only to police. Supposedly, once the convict is released, he is presumed to have 'done his time' but you are right, with the record open to everyone the convict will never be 'done his time' - and it is not good for the society either. Would the average tax payer rather this man turned back to petty crime with his wife and family on welfare? Seems to me getting the released convict (or ex-con) back into the proper taxpaying revenue producing portion of society would be the main focus not punishing the man over and over again.

      It is illogical to me why we do this - and it is we, the average citizen, who does this no government is provoking us to behave this way.

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      3 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      2. OK, instead of using the word, "deport" use, "work release program."

      3. I was referring to actual working farms or ranches. About half the US lives in a rural community. I am suggesting criminals be assigned to work for independent farmers or ranchers who are paid a stipend for taking in the person and training them.

    • handymanbill profile image

      Bill 

      3 years ago from western pennsylvania

      Having known someone who did time for a nonviolent reason I can make a good. If they would of served in an Armed forces then that would have been better then maybe after he or she had served then there record could have been sealed so only law enforcement could view. Right now that person would like to do something but can't get a job because of his "record". Now a days your record is an open book for potential employers. So when you have been locked up for a couple years and have not been able to support your family, family went on welfare in this case, then the person can't find a job cause no one wants to hire. So what is that person supposed to do? Go back to petty crime? I would hope not once you have a record it is with you forever.

    • CreeViking profile imageAUTHOR

      Robin Olsen 

      3 years ago from Rural Canada

      Thanks for the response Jay and for the reading. I hope you enjoy the rest of the hubs as well.

      As far as point 2 goes - can't deport to a foreign country of course but we can set aside a large empty space on our own land, say an island or something, and exile criminals there. no survival gear, just dumped and left there to survive or not.

      And I agree wholeheartedly with point 4 but to me the mentally ill are not criminals and should be treated as sick people and not be in the justice system. Or at the very least, the justice system should have the ability to 'sentence' someone to an indefinite stay in a hospital ward. Judges are not given good options for punishment IMO. this is one area where that is painfully obvious.

      Point 3 speaks to labor camps, no not the NAZI style camps were everyone starves but a labor camp none the less. this type of camp can reduce the costs of the prison system especially if they are producing for prisoner consumption - kinda like they are feeding themselves then, I do not feel labor camps can offer proper reform for the prisoner.

      All countries should make use of their criminal element in this way (point 1) America used to do this even for their regular Army forces, not anymore I am afraid. Too many corporations involved in the locking up of American people these days, need to thin that out. Canada used to do it too but has also abandoned the process. Britain, etc. I am sure the Chinese and Russians still do this (the criminals they don't simply shoot that is).

      Point 5 is a social issue and one that needs to be looked at for sure.

      good comment

    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 

      3 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      I have come to say, "Hello." I found you on another Hub and enjoyed your writing. Here are a few points for this Hub.

      1. The French Foreign Legion used many criminals, so too should the USA... The American Foreign Legion.

      2. How about clearing the persons' criminal record and deporting them to someplace like China. They would be handled by Chinese (or Iranian) law thereafter.

      3. How about a "Diffused System?" Instead of prison, send them to a farm or ranch to work. The criminal would be separated from other criminals and gang affiliation would be broken. Prisons grow gangs.

      4. Do not forget the mentally ill. Many mentally ill wind up in the justice system because there is not enough mental health hospitals or outpatient supervision.

      5. I believe one of the biggest crimes is manufacturing or delivery of drugs. Drugs ruin lives and are the root cause of much crime.

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