Three-strikes-and-you're-out & other Escalating Punishments

A comment over on David Thompson's blog got me thinking about escalating punishments for repeat offenders, and I thought I'd share my [slightly-expanded] thoughts here as well.

[In reference to burglary] If you get a stern finger wagging and a suspended sentence for the first one, five years for the next, 7 1/2 for the third, 11 1/4 for number four, then by seven convictions total sentence is longer than a normal human lifespan. Or maybe you invoke a three-strikes-and-you're-out rule, and stick to it.

In general I like the idea of escalating punishments for crimes committed by repeat offenders, but you need to be cautious to make sure they don't escalate too much. As the old story goes:

In Ancient China a group of spearmen from a small village where on their way to meet up with the rest of the army. They where a couple of days out from the rendezvous point when the village elder sat them down around the campfire and asked them a question:

"Does everyone know what the punishment for being late is?"

"Death" one of the spearmen replied.

"Does everyone know what the punishment for rebellion is?"

"Death" said another.

"Well boys ... we're late."

And you don't want the absurdity like the Californians throwing shop-lifters in jail for life, that's just silly.

Still prior-record should be taken into account for crimes. If you're going to reform it's probably going to be during the first prison sentence afterall.

There is the option of encouraging Judges to hand down suspended sentences. Perhaps all crimes have reasonably aggressive minimum suspended sentences (there's some problems with minimum sentences, but giving the Judge the ability to decide if it's suspended or to be served straight away would alleviate some of them). Of course with suspended sentences you get the funny case of a Burglar who's now mostly reformed getting a major sentence for shoplifting.

Another possibility is a simple, though still more complex than the current system, percentage add, for burglary you might add +50% for any future sentence, or for shoplifting +5%, or mugging +75%, with the add on percentages adding together. An example sentence might then be something like:

  • No criminal record: 5 years.
  • 2x shoplifting: 5 years 6 months
  • 1x burglary, 2x mugging: 15 years

The advantage of this is that I suspect Judges would be more likely to use it. It's easier to say "In future if you continue down this route you'll be punished more harshly" than "You are going to be punished harshly here and now". I'd probably leave it up to the sentencing authority to decide what percentage increase was appropriate for each case though, perhaps with guidance in the laws as we now have for number of years.

Another option would be to have prior convictions increase the "without-parole" period. I think I've read that parole is the big problem here, in that most criminals get out before serving their full time, so leave the total sentence the same, but prior convictions increase the minimum time until parole is possible.

Of course none of these will necessarily fix the problem on their own. The ultimate problem is that we as a society, or at least our "betters", have forgotten that "mercy" without justice is actually just cowardance.

Systematic changes may help, but they are secondary to the cultural changes needed, if our Judges and Parole boards had more of a focus on justice, repeat offenders would be given harsher sentences, and would be less likely to receive parole anyhow.

Categories: Jurisprudence, Politics
Date: 2014-07-10 00:30:17, 10 years and 7 days ago

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