Re: LEGAL: Alternatives to imprisonment

Timothy Bates (
Wed, 03 Mar 1999 16:18:44 +1100 asked

> I've been trying to come up with better alternatives for criminal penalties,
> but have not had much luck in developing a substantial improvement over the
> status quo. Seems to me that >H are a pretty smart bunch, so maybe a little
> brainstorming might dig up some good solutions.

> Premise: Imprisonment as a consequence of crime is a failed policy.

If you really want to control behavior you (typically) have to do conditioning: simply having a consequence is (often) not enough to prevent a behavior - the person must learn the linkage.

So, you would have to implement a program of exposure to consequences sufficiently punishing to drive the behaviors to near zero.

Apart from heavy-handed government interventions (which I don't favor), my preferred solution is Coventry. That is to say, social shame.

The benefit of this is that conditioning can be continuous and gradual: it does not kick in with serious crime, but rather acts in all areas of our lives.

If people's public acts remain with them in full view (say as a beam-able database in their palm-pilot) we can constantly evaluate whether we want to trade with that person given their history.

In this way, the little acts that people get away with and which provide the ongoing reward for crime instead become highly punishing. In effect, we turn our cities into villages.

If a person does not beam their data-history, well ... you can make of that what you want.

If you like, you can beam data on other people.

So, you a fellow in the public bar. he beams across data that sounds OK. Your agent broadcasts a call for rumors about him, one comes back - some body heard that a couple of years ago in Alaska: maybe he stole a car bit there wasn't enough info. You decide to not talk to him - what the heck.

You are entering a financial contract: you send out a request for info. What's more, you are willing to pay for good info. Several anonymous, but validated trustworthy data packets come in. You pay and they open - probably a loose associate of the Yakusa. Previous deals "sour".

That (backed of course by armed-response if these individuals decide to not comply with your free choice to fail to interact socially) will drive crime to close to zero, just as it did in small villages. However, we will be better as the info can be anonymous but valid. It can be cross referenced, and we can rely on ourselves, not a corruptible chieftain to mediate our relationships.

what do others think?