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Does Punishment Achieve Anything?

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  1. What Is the Punishment for Crimes?

If we were willing to apply extreme punishments as a norm, i.e. death for all serious crimes, rigorous imprisonment for intermediate offences and harsh floggings for most other offences, we would almost certainly see a reduction in crime. However, even in the harshest regimes people still continue to commit crimes, so it is clear that a reduction is the best we can hope for. But how many of us would wish to live in such a society?

And yet if we continue as we are, we achieve very little for anyone and that only at an enormous financial cost. The fear of crime effects us all - just look at the proliferation of household burglar alarms and the number of cars fitted with immobilizers and steering locks that people have paid for out of their own pockets to try and minimize their perceived risk of being a victim. We know that some housing estates are virtual no go areas where even the police approach with great caution and only in twos or fours.

We know that there is gunfire regularly heard in some areas of British cities from local drug gangs sorting out territorial disputes. We read daily of murders and other dreadful crimes and yet what does the penal system do to protect us from all this? Will building new prisons and locking up ever more people really help? We know that the answer is no and yet the government will still continue to do it. They will also continuously tinker with the laws increasing the maximum sentence for this crime or that or introducing a new offence here or there, but we know that it will have no effect other than probably to push up the cost to the taxpayer and slightly increase the sum total of human misery.

Ideally, we need to identify ways of preventing people committing the crime in the first place.

Can genetics help here? It seems that we can identify genes that may cause or influence criminal behavior. If this is true, will we one day be able to modify these genes?

Would better parenting and better education reduce criminality? Should we place more emphasis on the teaching of right and wrong, personal responsibility, and respect for the lives and property of others?

Would earlier identification of criminal and potential criminal behavior and effective treatment of it bring real benefits?

Can technology make crime more difficult to commit and/or easier to detect?

Can computers control cars so as to prevent their theft and prevent the reckless driving that results in death and injury?

Can we offer better psychiatric help to children and adults to help solve their personality problems and steer them away from crime?

Can we use technology to control the movements of people? We can already use electronic tagging and this might be extended to cover those deemed to be at risk of offending.

Perhaps we could invent equipment that monitors thoughts and sounds an alarm when a person begins to have criminal or violent thoughts.

Will we license breeding in the next century? It is obvious that bad parenting is a major cause of criminal behavior in children and yet we allow anyone to have a child irrespective of their circumstances or suitability for the role of parent. At the same time, we impose extremely onerous conditions on couples seeking to adopt a child. Do people have a right to breed irrespective of the outcome and the cost to the rest of us? At present, society says that they do but this view may change over the next 50 years as its flaws become increasingly obvious and expensive.


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