“By giving a punishment for crime that is greater than the pleasure extracted in the first place from their criminal behaviors, it should teach sinners not to sin again.”
Eye For An Eye
Classic law is the basis of the entire American crime and punishment system. Originally, it comes from Great Britain and was founded on the principle of deterrence. Meaning it was, and still is, deeply rooted in a punitive approach. In theory, it’s interesting. The test of time has shown us that theory and practice are not like ebony and ivory here; they don’t live together in perfect harmony.
Classic law made sense 300 years ago, when science was massively disregarded. Today we know, without the glimpse of a doubt, that only soft approaches are efficient enough to lower crime rates. It’s a fact that we can no longer disregard.
A group of French comedians, RBO, made a great sketch in the 90’s. The skit highlighted a very bad father saying about his son, “There’s nothing else to do with this kid. We tried everything: we tried to beat him; we tried to ration his food; and we tried calling him names. Really, nothing works.” The one thing they didn’t try? Loving him.
It’s a shame, but collectively, as Americans, we think just like this rotten dad. When dealing with criminals, the only tools in our toolbox are instruments of torture. Only punitive “solutions” will ever make it to the drawing board; it’s very sad because harsh punishment never effectively deters crime. They will create at least as much criminal behavior as they are tasked to prevent. That’s exactly what Joseph Gusfield (teacher and human rights activist) taught us when defining how elites create and then literally own social problems.1
Zero Tolerance For Crime
Gusfield’s views on how public problems are created and preserved [to permanently justify public policies, social order, and their authority] are very well covered in “The Culture of Public Problems : Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order (1981).”
He argues that the whole social panic about drinking and driving serves a higher purpose for the state. It’s not that policies against drunk driving don’t save lives, it does. The whole fight against drunk drivers also creates collateral damage that far outweighs the benefits.
Every time we arrest 10,000 persons with drunk-driving charges, we might prevent 1 or 2 deaths that year. Within the length of time needed to process those same 10,000 persons with criminal records, there will be at least 10 suicides and countless other consequences. What remains is a superstition. We think it’s a good thing to fight dirty against drunk drivers. It’s certainly not a good thing when considering the big picture.
We should only give fines for a DUI (Driving Under the Influence) and permanent records for recidivists. The whole thing would suddenly make sense and give first-time offenders an opportunity to modify their behavior. The problem with zero-tolerance policies is that they assume nobody ever learns, so we should control them. Zero tolerance campaigns are insults to our intelligence and we should not tolerate them.
A lot of crime can and should be handled monetarily with fines, not vindictively with permanent punishment: live-altering criminal records. If we, as a society, really want an anti-social behavior to cease, we can always boost the fines; more people would stop doing it, guaranteed.
Dollars Make Sense
Fines are efficient and they work. They work because they don’t destroy your life. You can organize a payment plan with the courts to pay the fine over time, even a hefty one. Once paid, that’s it: your neighbors won’t spit on you everyday to remind you what you did a decade ago.
People who support public registries for sex offenders in the US often don’t know they are inefficient. Several studies concluded that SORNA (Sex Offense Registration and Notification Act) did not reduce sex offense recidivism2 or prevent sexual offending in the general community3.
Further: one study finds no difference in sex offense recidivism between offenders who register and those who do not4 and an increase in the number of sex offenders subject to community notification is associated with an increase in sex offense recidivism.5 These findings are replicated in Agan and Prescott’s (2014), “…with a higher concentration of sex offenders.” These studies, and the data uncovered by them, support the fact that registration is punishment and nothing else. Let’s get rid of this cruel an unusual system of punishment: we are using a chain saw to butter toast.
The sheer cruelty of sex offender registration will someday be remembered as a brutal mistake from the past; a dark period in history, not unlike chattel slavery or the Holocaust. Unfortunately, the United States continues to promote the lie of effectiveness and put pressure on sovereign nations to implement these human rights violations on their own unsuspecting citizens:
- India implemented one in 2018, or at least attempted to: their population is too vast and far too poor to effectively manage such a bloated money-pit efficiently.
- The Bahamas are contemplating the implementation of one.
- Poland has a non-public registry (only for the police) that in on the verge of failing.
- Spain attempted a registry for a short time until it was realized that, without a dedicated police state in place, would, and ultimately did, fail. When they lobbied the EU to adopt a bloc-wide registry scheme (no doubt in order to fund their own) the idea was overwhelmingly shot down as the blatant human-rights violating legislation that it is. Europe already had the Nazis and they don’t want them back.
Registries, in all forms, should be abolished as soon as possible and never resurrected. Preventing sex crimes is a common goal that no one objects to, even the current and past victims of SORNA. The problem is that the approach is exactly the same it was with drunk driving. The intentions may be good but there’s so much damage done to society that any realized benefit is outweighed several times over.
Many people ignore the controlling dynamic and continue to support “tough on crime” policies against sex offenders. They make society dangerous, poor, judgmental, scary, and stressful; their senses are driven by vengeance rather than rationale. We have to cut funding from beneficial programs to balance the bloated budgets of police departments who enforce this nonsense.
Be Soft to Get Hard
Throughout history, wielding a heavy hand and being “tough” on crime, through harsh punishment, has never worked so maybe we need to be soft on crime to be efficient on crime. Soft doesn’t imply allowing criminals to roam free and skirt all forms of justice; that’s just as nonsensical as believing that de-funding the police means to get rid of them. Softening our stance on crime and/or punishment simply converts the harsh brutality of the justice system from a civilian warehousing model to a coffer-boosting financial one.
In 1981, Alcoholics Anonymous famously defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” This is what our heavily-funded criminal justice system is doing with the tough-on-crime illusion; like the frustrated parent who screams at his or her child: continues screaming louder until the desired outcome is achieved. Against sex crimes, we keep screaming but nothing ever changes.
What the utilitarian approach of Jean-Paul Sartre teaches us, is that the result is more important than the goal. Currently, with sex offenders and other societal undesirables, the goal (punish them) is more important than the result (keeping kids and vulnerable adults safe). A recent decision a common pleas judge made in a case is particularly perplexing. He refused a pedophile the right to own a pet under the pretext that it could possibly be used to attract kids and hypothetically put them in danger. It is unbelievable how the human mind can invent problems where there are none.
First of all, abusing a child is like an addiction. It can be controlled and it’s way easier to do so when removing sources of stress in your life. One good way to reduce stress, other than through medication, is to have a pet! A lot of pedophiles (they’re people too don’t forget) have pets and I’d like to see a study comparing their recidivism rates to those not owning pets. Funny how the government doesn’t do feasibility studies or use certified statistics to back their own nefarious behaviors towards civilians.
Time For An Overhaul
The ineffectiveness of the American sex offender registry paradigm is exactly why some anti-crime advocates have been pushing for the creation of “sex-courts”, the judicial equivalent of “drug-courts” which have been proven to be extremely efficient in reducing recidivism rates among drug-related offenders.
In “sex-courts,” a dedicated and fair judge would handle punishment for non-violent, sexually-themed charges brought against first-time offenders. A well-trained and specialized judiciary would prevent such meaningless decisions like not allowing pedophiles to own pets. Judges would work within a team of sex offender board-certified therapists and probation agents.
There’s a quote I really like from a French expert in genetics, Albert Jacquard. I’ll try to translate the quote as well as possible.
“Brilliant decisions from all experts, in their respective domains of knowledge, generate a global chaos.”
Our individual decisions can be paved with good intentions, but in the grand scheme of things, they could very well be mistakes. A minimum of humility should always guide our thoughts. It would be reasonable to assume that many cops, judges, and prosecutors would be devastated if they were presented with a report detailing the real consequences of their actions on earth. The “tough on crime” and harsh punishment proponents would quickly realize the devastation they have caused to our society in their lifetimes.
- (Joseph R. Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade : Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1963, 198 p.)
- (Letourneau et al. 2009; Letourneau et al. 2010; Prescott & Rockoff 2011; Tewksbury, Jennings & Zgoba 2012; Zgoba, Veysey & Dalessandro 2010)
- (Ragusa-Salerno & Zgoba 2012)
- (Levenson et al. 2010)
- (Prescott & Rockoff 2011)