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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 6. May 28, 1958

Crime and you

page 6

Crime and you

Although a great deal of emotional controversy goes on over the subject of crime and punishment, the real factors of it are seldom brought to light. Instead you have on the one hand the angry citizen who screams "Kill the punks", and on the other the psychiatrist who emotionally disclaims "You shouldn't punish the poor unfortunate criminals."

Both these opinions are wrong for the basis of a legal system of crime prevention. The work of the Law is not to vent private revenge, nor to emotionally adjust lawbreakers. It is to protect the community from crime, and that is the Only angle from which our legal system should be looked at. All other considerations can only be allowed in the relation they bear to this basic function.

But before any attempts are made to improve our legal system of crime prevention, it must be understood why people Don't commit crimes, for under the merciless inspection of logic criminals are not people who illogically break society's rules, but law-abiding citizens are people who for several reasons do not commit crime. These reasons are three, and if they are absent a person will commit crime.

The first barrier against crime is the fear of punishment. Punishment may take many forms, whether reprimand, cessation of privileges, monetary fines, physical punishment, imprisonment, or execution, among others, but its main characteristic is that it acts as a deterrent to crime. Some would include the Biblical fear of God under this heading.

The second reason for abstinence from crime is lack of effective or profitable opportunity. Thus, for the ordinary man it is just not worth while to commit a crime, weighing the potential risks and gains against each other. In this category come the idea that "crime does not pay", that a thief is a fool because he will spend half of his time in gaol, or that he could make more from a steady job. Also in this category is the Victorian idea that men and women should be strictly segregated to prevent any opportunity for adultery.

Supervision by policemen on patrol is another aspect of the idea of preventing opportunity for crime. But for instance, slum dwellers or children from broken homes are likely to commit crimes, for logically they might gain much (whether money, sexual satisfaction, fulfilment of destructive impulses) from committing what society labels as a crime, while they feel that they have little to lose from being caught and punished. This includes the oft-quoted example of children picking pockets at the execution of another pickpocket, for they would feel that they might as well be hanged for a wolf as a sheep, for if you are likely to die from malnutrition and squalor, what is there to fear from execution?

The third factor preventing crime is a persons moral code. No matter what' you call this, conscience or super ego, it is the feeling that it is wrong to commit a crime. This is the only theologically justified reason for keeping the law, but it is woefully limited because of human nature and environs. This moral code is instilled mainly in the home, but also by churches, schools, companions, and the culture influences: books, films and radio. Thence comes the terrible question. How can children learn a true moral code if they have corrupt adulterous or delinquent parents; parents who roll home drunk every night, or have no love for the child and give him no security? How can he, despite this, learn it outside the home if he goes to no Sunday School, lives among corrupt and cynical neighbours, and reads, sees and hears only corrupt crime and sex-based things around him? The brutal answer to this is that he cannot and will not. And as intellectual atheism spreads among the masses of humanity the idea of living by a moral code which has a divine power behind it slowly dies out and the absolute corruption of opportunism overtakes the race. This has destroyed all the civilisations of old, and it may yet destroy our own.

But what bearing has this got on crime and punishment?

The bearing is this. There is and obviously always will be a large class of people who have no moral reason for obeying the law or at least specific parts of it. Further, there will always be opportunities for people to gain from crime, whether it is the lust satisfaction of raping a woman, or beating up an old man, or the joyful feeling of revenge against a hostile society gained by vandalism, or the financial gain from stealing money. Therefore, we as a society must find methods of stopping this. A greater attempt to instill a moral j code, or the diversion of energy by the expedients of building youth centres, etc., will have some effect, but will obviously never in a human society totally remove the reasons and opportunity for crime. Thus we are left with the first expedient mentioned. We must make the punishments for crime so frightening that the mere thought of committing a crime will send shivers of fear down a person's back. And the only limit we can logically place on this policy is to stop it when it makes society intolerable for the majority to live in, a state we are far from now.

Now at present our penal system lays stress upon reforming the individual. We must examine this policy with the cruel eye of statistical logic, and decide whether this means that the effect of the deterrent is so reduced that the total NET amount of crime is increased. It is not the job of the law to take the function of God and judge whether a man is more to be pitied than condemned. It is the job of the law to reduce the total net amount of crime, and what the effect of this upon the individual criminal is of no business of the legal system, for its duty is to protect the public. Since law is not based upon morality, but expediency, our legal system must use the most effective and expedient means to reduce crime, no matter what crimes, in the eye of God, it commits against the individual criminal. This policy is horrible and morally indefensible, but it is the policy our legal system must be based upon. Every law, reformative technique, or any policy put forward to reduce crime must be examined from this point of view, only the extent to which society becomes intolerable being its limiting factor. Thus in all probability we will have to double penalties for most crimes, and re-introduce capital punishment for several of them, though this will have to be subject to careful statistical examination. Mercy as a policy towards first offenders will have to be scrapped, unless it can be shown that this effectively reduces the total of crime, for mercy is an illogical and hence inexpedient emotion unless it produces positive results. The law must be fully revamped to turn its gaze from judging the individual (as if this could be done by a human system) to the total net social result from any of its judgments, and if this means a living hell for the individual offender that is just too sad, and if capital punishment (or an effective substitute such as the French Devil's Island system) has to be reintroduced, by the necessity of statistical logic, that also will be just too bad.

Drawing of a table

Once we thoroughly throw out the confusion of law and morality, and substitute statistical logic, our legal system will become far more effective.