Monday, April 06, 2009

Penalty hikes represent failure of imagination

Here's a thought for the day while I'm busy at the capitol this morning - something I wrote in reaction to a blog commenter here about the effectiveness of increasing criminal penalties as social policy:
Penalty enhancements almost always reflect a lack of imagination about other ways to influence human behavior. Enhancing current penalties should be a last resort since it's among the least effective approaches - once something is illegal, making it more illegal won't reduce the number of people who do it much. Instead, penalty hikes are usually the first thing legislators want to do, even though by definition it's an admission that the same strategy (criminalizing the behavior) failed to solve the problem in the first place.


peter said...

Your analysis is so obviously true that it is hard to imagine any argument against, except that tired and utterly vindictive one of retribution to the exclusion of all else. Lets hope your readers at least are both honest about that, and of a mind to reject that corrupt notion of Justice

JSN said...

The penalty for truancy is expulsion and if that does not work put their parents in jail.

It seems to me that unimaginative is too mild a term.

JTP said...

Well, everyone knows that penalty enhancements work because all bad criminals carry a copy ot the Penal Code in their back pockets, which they carefully read before consdering whether or not to commit their crimes. How do you expect folks to think twice ahead of time if you don't make it really tough on em' and scare them out of their minds?

Speaking of the Penal Code, has anyone ever thought of writing it so the everyday guy on the street can comprehend it?

strawberry6977 said...

I think it certainly depends on the crime. Enhancement on some, particularly violent crimes is warranted. But my "rule of thumb" is if there is a rehabilitation program available, then that should be the first course of action and be MANDATED. Unfortunately, Texas is slowly but surely coming around on mandating rehabilitations and programs, and creating more programs/beds available.

Simply enhancing a sentence doesn't necessarily make it into the head of the person committing the crime, unfortunately...there are lots of crimes out there that are done impulsively or driven by addiction. They need help.

Anonymous said...

In a system where plea bargains are obtained in 95% of criminal cases, we know most "crimes" are never proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Enhancements to unproven crimes adds another big layer of error to a system that is not capable of identifying the real criminals on a good day.

Tough on crime legislators should focus more money and effort on improving the court system. Extending a dysfunctional plea bargain process to identify and punish criminals with enhancements is a waste of taxpayer money.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you've been reading the list of bills on Senator Carona's agenda. Not only new and more severe punishments, but lots of new offenses.

Anthony said...

This basically represents a type of sin tax. Except that the state is the one who is paying the tax because of their sin of not figuring out how to help people.

jsn said...

Anonymous 12:43 claims that plea bargaining is dysfunctional. I am inclined to agree because the plea bargaining process starts with the assumption that the accused is guilty.

Is it possible to devise an objective test of plea bargaining?