Crime and Punishment
Our notions of crime and punishment date back to Hammurabi and the
notion of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. They are based on limiting vengeance to
nothing more severe than the original offence. They clearly do not work very well. The
USA now spends more on prisons than education, has 75% greater
proportion of the population in prison than other democratic countries, has the death
penalty which few other democratic countries do and still has the highest crime and
murder rates. Black people spend disproportionately more time in prison and are given
longer sentences than whites for the same crime. Yet this has backfired, disrupting the
black community, training new generations of criminals in the jails and setting up
defiance for civil authority.
Are there any other possible approaches?
If you look at the problem as how do I reduce crime?
rather than how should I punish transgressors?, then prevention leaps out as
where you should put your efforts.
- Teaching children not to commit crimes through moral/ethical education (which is
distinct from religious education.)
- Removing temptations.
We have not even begun to think about using technology to
make theft pointless. Basically the idea is, you design an object so that only the
legally registered owner can use it. There is some talk already of handguns with this
property. They might measure finger or palm prints, finger lengths or require the user to
know a secret code.
The same thing could be done with watches, televisions, computers, stereos,
cars… For objects that don’t do anything, e.g. silverware, you could add a
uneraseable high tech serial number. The legitimate owner is tracked in a database.
I have written elsewhere on how the Internet protocols should be redesigned to make
forgeries and spam impossible. I have written elsewhere on how computers should be
designed to make viruses impossible and inter-vendor warfare impossible.
If we moved to a cashless society using smart cards for all transactions, again theft
would be impossible. A criminal would have to take you at gunpoint into a store to buy
Lead us not into temptation seems a gentler, more effective approach than the
expensive, ineffective, cruel road we are on now.