Does imprisonment deter crime?
Did you enjoy the November JustSpeak forums on sentencing in Auckland and Wellington?
Criminology and Psychology student Eilidh MacDonald has written an awesome piece about whether imprisonment as a punishment deters crime. Some may take this for granted. As she notes:
One of the oldest institutions in the Western world is the Criminal Justice System. It exists to serve and protect the justice of each citizen. Its most basic function is to apprehend and punish those who threaten our safety, and it is a function which we as individuals will rarely question. It is our instinctive reaction to punish those who has committed an offence.
Eilidh talks about the different types of deterrence and what research says about the relationship between deterrence and offending. She examines what makes a punishment effective in terms of reducing reoffending.
Whilst there is a general belief that harsher punishments deter crime, research has shown that severe punishments are not guaranteed to deter future crime. Whilst incarceration is the most severe form of punishment in most criminal justice systems, second only to the death penalty, it is an environment into which the majority of inmates can adapt to, thus lessening its severity.
She looks at some theories about how imprisonment affects people’s decisions to commit crime, and also discusses the effects of imprisonment on individuals. One observation is that:
people who have few social bonds have nothing to lose by committing crime, and that social bonds are often weakened or broken whilst imprisoned.
Studies highlight that punishment in general has little or no deterrent effect. Long prison sentences may even increase reoffending!
A key message is that at the moment, the prison environment breeds criminality and criminal behaviour, and something quite different is needed:
In basic terms, for prisons to act as successful deterrents, they must allows inmates to become or remain positive and contributing members of society.
You can read the full essay here: Does imprisonment deter crime