Re: Punishment

Warrl kyree Tale'sedrin (
Thu, 12 Mar 1998 18:49:59 +0000

> From: Charlie Stross <>

> There are, 'less I'm mistaken, three policies for punishment in most
> societies: deterrence, revenge, and prevention. These are usually applied
> in combination, rather than in isolation, and the mechanism by which
> they are applied, and severity, varies.

There *should* be a fourth item in the list: reparation.

Unfortunately, your failure to mention it is entirely correct.

> Firstly, deterrence. This is pretty much disproven as an approach to
> preventing crime; punishment doesn't deter criminals because criminals
> don't expect to be caught and punished. If they did, they wouldn't
> commit crimes.

Deterrence has been shown to be somewhat effective when an
intelligent person would rationally expect to be caught.

Today in the US, your chances of being caught rest not on how much
damage you do, but on how directly you violate government usurpations
of power.

The government performing its proper function would prohibit burglary
and mugging; commit those crimes, you probably won't get caught.

The government performing its proper function would NOT prohibit
buying marijuana, and wouldn't be collecting a personal income tax at
all. Try to buy marijuana, or scrimp a bit on your income taxes, and
your chances of getting caught are vastly higher than if you merely
mug somebody in the street.

Some studies seem to indicate that the arrest rate (assuming they
only arrest people they have a good chance of being able to
successfully prosecute) is the most relevant factor, that the
severity of the punishment is almost irrelevant to deterrence.

> The classic study of this problem was conducted in England
> in the victorian period. The death penalty by hanging was carried out in
> public until roughly 1860, when executions were moved indoors. A study
> in the 1860's and 1870's demonstrated that something like 95% of criminals
> condemned to death had, however, witnessed a public execution for the very
> crime they wer to hang for. The deterrent had failed, in their cases. (We
> don't know how many people _were_ deterred, of course, but there are other
> studies of countries which abolished the death penalty and didn't experience
> a sudden surge in the murder rate that suggest the same principle applies.)
> Arguably this is due to incorrect risk evaluation on the part of the
> criminally inclined; here in the UK there's a massive program of placing
> CCTV cameras in public places, and it does indeed appear to have a major
> impact on petty crime (vandalism, car theft, muggings) in public places
> overlooked by cameras. The point being that the punishment doesn't deter
> criminals; it's the certainly of capture that deters them.

But being caught would be little deterrent, if no punishment

"Aha, you scum! I have caught you red-handed mugging this
man! Put your knife away and leave, now!"
"Okay, guv'nor. Same time tomorrow night?"

US$500 fee for receipt of unsolicited commercial email. USC 47.5.II.227