Monday 21 January 2013

MYTH: Prison and Corporal Punishment Don't Deter Crime

Punishment Does Deter Crime

If I had 10 bucks for each time I heard that punishment - spanking; shame; corporal; prison; and yes capital - do not work because they do not deter errant behaviour I would be much richer.

I believe this is bunk. There are usually statistics and "studies" cited to substantiate this old argument but we all know that we can find statistics to back any statement. So I won't but I will leave it up to you to find your own if you agree with the following. Personally I don't need statistics - life experience is good enough.

I also believe that the points I am about to make are fundamental everywhere - here in Canada where we don't really have a prison mentality and in other countries where they do.

Every year a group of guys I know who are already south of the 50th parallel of life get together for a round of golf late in the summer. We all attended the same public school - now demolished - or one of 2 or 3 high schools in our region. Some of our homes were a mile or two apart but we now consider ourselves former neighbours. One of the youngest built the golf course. We were not all friends back then because 2+ years of age difference when you are in primary school seem huge at the time but at this age we are now just one generation.

After commiserating over the game with a couple of beers, talk often gets around to the good old days. A favourite is what ever happened to ...? Those years - the '50s and '60s - had real life Fonzie's and tough guys who would bully or fight and yes, commit crimes. Some of them did die in violent circumstances or have spent time in the slammer.

We all lived with the threat of getting the strap at school or at home or both; sometimes being handled forcefully by teachers; going without our supper; or being sent to our rooms.  We all agree that those things did not deter those same guys from repeat behaviour. In fact getting the strap for some was cool.

So the main point of all of this is that in many cases - hard core criminals; murderers; rapists; burglars; fraud artists etc. - jail time will probably not work. They will often repeat their crimes.  However they represent only a very small group compared to the population at large - the REST of us.

The threat of punishment back then and even now did and still does deter that larger group. It certainly did me and from our discussions my colleagues are largely free from criminal records and do not want to spend the rest of their lives as Big Bubba's shower mate. We don't want to lose our right to drive or have to pay ridiculous insurance premiums. Our relatively normal lives mean too much to us.

Unfortunately over the decades many of those disincentives have been taken away by some people with good intentions. Look what has happened through those same decades.

We used to walk to and from school with no fear. We played outside at night. Our parents were comfortable with that. If you ticked off one of those tough guys you might get bruised but they did not pull out a gun and kill you. There were some gangs like those in West Side Story where real knife fights occurred but guns were seldom used. However none of us felt the absolute need to be in a gang just to survive.

Today all of those things do happen. Young kids do carry weapons and don't think twice about using them. Parents sue teachers for any physical contact and kids sue their parents for the same thing or even less. Some young girls go to school looking like five dollar hookers and guys dress just as badly. Sadly, today the parents blame the schools for not keeping their kids safe.

Surely there is a co-relationship here. As punishment disappeared, kids' behaviours degraded and then they carried those standards into parenthood as the norm.

To those who are against any form of physical punishment I believe that I and all of those golfing colleagues are proof that things were not so bad. In fact it DID work on all of us. I don't recall any teacher being charged for abuse of kids and if they were guilty of same, then if anything the courts back then were much tougher on them. The same applied to abusive parents.

So go for it web crawlers. Let's see some statistics for two things:

1. Increases in types of crime over the last 50 years or AND ...
2. The percentage that these offenders represent of the total population

I am convinced that even with today's more lenient courts, the disincentive for the larger group still works. So yes - build more prisons. When I am really angry the threat will keep me from lashing out. When I am in need of a lot of cash, I won't be taking my chances with bank robbery or burglary.

Surely that goes for most of you also. If not let us hear your counter argument.

The Brewster

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