|It is no accident of language that police departments and electoral districts are both called "precincts." Policing was a patronage job, awarded at the precinct level. In the last generation, we have probably done away with that completely. Today, your local police all have some level of college education, either an associate's or a bachelor's, in criminal justice or law enforcement, or something related such as sociology or psychology.
In the criminal justice classes I am taking, we do not study anarchists. We study criminologists, such as O. W. Wilson and August Vollmer. Police chief of Berkeley, California, in the 1920s, Vollmer instituted motorcycle patrols and polygraphs and required that his cops be college graduates. Wilson took these practices to Wichita, where he proofed them, and improved them. Then, Wilson went to Chicago. The Wilson book I own is Police Records: their installation and use -- from 1940. Wilson was a pioneer.
Today, law enforcement professionals know that they are between Scylla and Cherybdis. Neither retributionism nor utilitarianism offers a complete, coherent and correct set of questions, to say nothing of answers. I believe that Objectivism is a better way to look at the problems subsumed under the rubric "crime. "
I cited Herbert Packer. His 1968 opus sums up what we know -- and what we do not know -- about crime and criminals. Packer is a dense writer.
Consider the definition of punishment. Procedurally, there is no difference between taking someone's driver's license for repeated offenses and taking it for loss of eyesight. Are both "punishment"?What Packer does in his book is attempt to define contexts. His approach is not perfect and his answers beg other questions, but I recognize this work as being substantially important and useful. It is still in print after 40 years.
What is the enforced hospitalization of a mentally ill person? The "insanity" plea is especially troubling to a legal system than demands that people be defined as moral agents, i.e., capable of making a choice, i.e., possessing free will. About one-fifth of those in jail today (right now; where you live) are mentally impaired or mentally incompetent.
Retribution feels good to some Objectivists because it seems to correlate with cause and effect. If you violate someone's rights, then you get punished. The problems with this are manifold. There is the epistemological problem of establishing guilt. Something like 90% of all cases are plead out, which means that the accused pleads guilty to something they did not do, to save the state the trouble of trying them for something else they are accused of. Why would someone plead guilty to a crime they did not commit? There are many reasons why. The prosecutor uses sales pressures; the public defender is socially closer to the prosecutor than to the acccused; the accused does not expect justice. Eyewitness testimony is most compelling to a jury and most likely to be wrong. (See the the Frontline video What Jennifer Saw, in which the victim spent 30 minutes with her rapist and then identified the wrong man -- a man with priors for B&E and CSC, but who was innocent of this particular crime.) Criminal justice professionals know these unsettling facts. There are no easy answers.
I stipulate to the existence of predatory persons in our society. "Punishing" them has never stopped them. (It might be better to identify them early in life and just kill them. That, of course, opens another can of worms.) Statists admit that government cannot act in retribution until these predators victimize an innocent person. Allowing for the moment the premises as the statists posit them, of what use, then, is a socialized police force since it cannot protect the rights of its citizens but can only apprehend those who violate them?
Furthermore, being socialist, the public police force is woefully inadequate at actually catching perpetrators. Most victims are assaulted by their friends and family. That makes apprehension trivial. We know that about 85% of all crimes are 'solved" by the statements of victims and witnesses. Most of the rest of the crimes go unsolved. Police detectives are about 15% effective. Socialism does not work. We know that.
Punishment does nothing. Punishing the perpetrator does not restore the victim -- even if the victim feels that it will.
I serve on a citizens advisory board for community corrections. Initially intended for non-violent crime (drugs; impaired driving), these programs now serve mostly domestic violence perpetrators. Many of them (some fraction; about 20%; maybe more) are actually remediated by workbooks and talk sessions in which their mistaken ideas and attitudes are identified. That helps some. Others have other issues.
In every case, it is a matter of context. We cannot throw an intellectual blanket over the burning issue to put it out. There are many issues, many problems, many causes, many alternatives.
Robert Bidinotto says that the punishment should fit the crime. That sounds compelling. It might have been insightful when it was offered over 200 years ago by the pioneer criminologist, Cesare Beccaria. In 200 years, we have gone from the steamship to the spaceship, but we have yet to find "punishments" that actually "fit" the "crimes."
(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 5/01, 8:19pm)