Thursday, 6 March 2014

On Crime and Punishment

You don't fight crime by increasing the magnitude of deterrents i.e the magnitude of punishment. Evidence shows that this just doesn't work. Changing the punishment from 5 years jail time to 20 years jail time, or from life imprisonment to capital punishment just doesn't work. You can however reduce crime by increasing the magnitude of what people value in life (which translates to an increase in what perpetrators can expect to lose if they commit a crime).

Deterrents only work if they're mapped to what people value.
 People with more to lose commit fewer crimes. This reflects the changing context of the cost-benefits-risks equation. Getting caught & going to jail means something different to a slum dwelling high school drop out than it does to a middle class Indian, because a middle class Indian has more to lose by going to jail (his freedom, status, job, money, friends, etc.) than a slum dwelling high school drop out (who will end up losing less since he has less of these to begin with and so places a lower value on their loss and is therefore more risk seeking). Governments can use this principle to decrease sexual predation by increasing the risk factors for offenders, thus changing their decision thresholds w.r.t offences.

And how exactly do you do this? By increasing economic development and inculcating moral values in a population. Because most things people value are either material or perceived mental states. And an increase in these things will mean a lower crime rate, since people now have more to lose. And so people who value society's perception of themselves and have more material wealth, status, empathy, etc. will be more risk-averse when it comes to committing a crime, since they now have more to lose, in terms of both material comfort and the way they feel society views and judges them.


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