Monday, February 16, 2009

Three strikes?

ACT's policy of "three strikes and you're out" has instant appeal to many, as it sounds like it can keep criminals away for good. The Greens call it lynching, but then the response is mainly in reaction to the manslaughter of Pihema Cameron.

So let's stand back a bit.

What is the criminal justice system meant to do? Essentially three things:
- Change the status of an offender to someone who "wont do it again";
- Punish the offender (to be a deterrent);
- Protect society from future offending.

In that sense, the first conviction should be focused on rehabilitation. It would be refreshing to see a focus on that, a focus on the core chance to turn someone around. In that sense, the biggest disaster of the criminal justice system is to put first time offenders in prisons with recividists - where rehabilitation is tempered with learning how to be a real crim. Putting all first time criminals of a certain degree into a similar facility may address this. A second chance at rehabilitation may also be warranted, but the more frequent a re-offender the more the emphasis has to go from rehab to punishment to protection.

The degree of punishment is always with any custodial offence, but the more severe the crime the greater the punishment. Murder must always have the longest sentence for punishment, as it is the crime that deserves the greatest deterrence. However, grievous violent and sexual offences come next. Repeat offenders should get ever more stringent sentences.

Finally, it is clear that the recividist offender who has shown no interest in rehab should be locked away for extensive periods to protect society. There should be no question that someone who murders twice should never be set free. A repeat sex offender should almost certainly be kept from freedom for a substantial part of his life.

So, in the sense that "three strikes and your out" can allow the shift from rehabilitation for the first strike to preventive detention in the last, I support it. However it should not be a blunt tool. Three vandalism offences is not the same as three murders.

So I propose a "points" system. Such a system would see a convict "earning points" for offences. These would be base points for the crime itself, with additional points for the seriousness of the event. Bear in mind that being "out" should means being in prison for at least half of the remaining years of your life, with an option for renewal if it is assessed that the person concerned remains a threat.

You see, for murder it should be two strikes. For vandalism it may be fifty. For serious violent or sexual offences it could be three strikes, for lesser offences against the person four strikes. For theft it could be ten. Whatever it could be, you get the point. Graduated offences depending entirely on the basic victim impact, increased if the commission was particularly sadistic, calculated and repulsive. What? Ten strikes for burglaries? Well yes. It is better than today, when you may get a couple of years, and then another couple of years, so prison becomes a risk of the offending. You see many criminals do a number of tricks. Theft, assault, fraud or others.

So a points system might just address this. The points may add increasing sentences when you get to say 50 points and 75 points as the criminal builds up to being locked away for good. After all, they then can't say they weren't warned.

Oh and yes I assume victimless crimes are not included, such as blasphemy, drugs laws and not conducting postal services without being registered. For locking someone away for good for being a drug addict is hardly the sign of a civilised society.


Peter Cresswell said...

"What is the criminal justice system meant to do? Essentially three things..."

No, essentially one thing and one thing only: protect individual rights. Which in this case means protecting those who value their individual rights from those who've shown they like to violate them.

Peter Cresswell said...

"Oh and yes I assume victimless crimes are not included, such as blasphemy, drugs laws and not conducting postal services without being registered."

I certainly would not assume that.

Libertyscott said...

In which case preventive detention is the name of the game. Protecting individual rights is about preventing crimes from being committed, punishing as a deterrent and releasing most offenders at some point, which assumes some rehabilitation.

Unless it is lock them all away at a first offence.

and no, I suggest victimless crimes SHOULD be excluded, but they wont be. Three strikes will apply to everything, stupidly, like it does in the USA.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Libertyscott is right. PC, I think you are simply objecting to his expression of what is needed to protect innocent individuals. A lack of prioritising perhaps. You surely can't intend that rehabilitation (skills training, education) is completely redundant?