Re: Filtered Extropians

Charlie Stross (
Tue, 17 Mar 1998 13:19:49 +0000

On Mon, Mar 16, 1998 at 10:40:22AM -0800, Robin Hanson wrote:
> Charlie Stross <> wrote:
> >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.
> Whoa. Let me get this straight. So you believe that if we eliminated
> all punishments (i.e., costs imposed) on all law-breaking, including theft,

No: I'm _not_ saying that we should eliminate punishment. What I'm saying
is that the severity of punishment -- be it a week in prison or a year,
or ten years, or a hanging -- is not the factor that deters people from
criminal behaviour; it's the _certainty_ of punishment. Therefore, given
finite resources, we would achieve a better deterrent effect by putting
resources into catching criminals and clearing up crime reports, rather
than locking them up for long (and expensive) prison sentences.

A burglar is more likely to be deterred by a 1 year prison sentence, and
an 80-90% probability of capture and conviction, than by a 10 year
sentence but a mere 10% probability of apprehension. (This is one reason
why some parts of europe have low crime rates _and_ light prison
sentences -- but very efficient police forces who catch most criminal
very rapidly.) Of course, it's a lot easier for a grandstanding
politician to pass a law mandating twenty year prison sentences for
burglars than it is for them to up the police crime clear-up statistics,
so we get stupid laws, draconian punishments, and an effectively zero
probability of arrest -- exactly the conditions that bring the law into
disrepute and disregard!

-- Charlie