Social Question

Nullo's avatar

What if our criminal justice system were based on restitution instead of incarceration?

Asked by Nullo (22012points) January 18th, 2010

Most current systems prescribe jail time or community service in hopes of correcting criminal behavior. But what if a thief were merely made to replace what he took, or a vandal what he destroyed?

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36 Answers

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

How could a rapist or murderer replace what he or she took? I’m in favor of incarceration.

Flo_Nightengale's avatar

Most people steal because they do not have. If they have nothing to begin with they and resort to stealing, how can they pay it back?

As for other crimes, they deserve jail time.

faye's avatar

It would certainly be nice for property victims to have restitution but I doubt the guy has a job.

wonderingwhy's avatar

For non violent crime I can’t see any reason it shouldn’t be.

@Flo_Nightengale by working off their debt.

Axemusica's avatar

@Flo_Nightengale not everyone steals because they don’t have.

@jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities have the rapist raped in the rear with a splintered piece of wood for hours on end while being beat’n. Murderer, well I’d say kill’em, but someone being murdered is more than that person dying, so that one might be a bit tougher.

Blondesjon's avatar

In a way it is for the wealthy. If you have the money to pay the lawyers you can get out of a great deal more than a person of “lesser” means.

faye's avatar

@wonderingwhy work it off in what way? Working for the prison isn’t going to help the victim. Just interested- not challenging- don’t see that it would work or wouldn’t we be doing it?

Nullo's avatar

In the case of murder, one could always give his life in exchange for the one that he took.
A rapist…Hmm. Gotta find something of similar value to take from a rapist.
If not for the fact that rapists tend to be jerks (thereby making it tough for the girl), I’d say it might be punishment enough to make him marry the wronged lady and treat her like a queen until the end of his days.

@Flo_Nightengale Surely the thief will have something eventually.
@faye Maybe you could have him work for the guy he stole from.

Flo_Nightengale's avatar

@Axemusica you are incorrect. You need to do more research. I worked in a jail and saw much sadness.

wonderingwhy's avatar

@faye any sort of labor suited to their capability in order to provide monetary restitution. For non violent crime you don’t have to put them in prison, monitored work release would be enough. You steal $10,000 in goods from home, you (for example) clean local community areas at minimum wage 20 hours a week until you’ve paid your debt.

much more ideal would be addressing the causes of non violent crime and working to lower the over all instances.

Axemusica's avatar

@Nullo I said the murder one would be harder due to it mostly harms the people that are still living and most murderers don’t have loving relatives.

@Flo_Nightengale Ok i’m incorrect. Even though I was a thief for 5 years of my life. Please excuse me.

valdasta's avatar

“Real” restitution is the problem. If I steal your car and am convicted of the crime, I will do time in jail and pay a fine. However, the fines that may be owed are owed to the state, not to you (the one I have wronged). Restitution is making it right with the person I have violated.

As far as murder is concerned, there is only one solution for that: death. You cannot take a life and make it right other than to lose your own.

You don’t rehabilitate murderers, pedophiles, and rapists….

fireinthepriory's avatar

Some criminals (violent ones – rapists and murderers obviously included) pose a danger to more people if not incarcerated. This problem can’t be solved with a restitution form of criminal justice.

faye's avatar

@wonderingwhy As @valdasta said, that is not restitution.

Nullo's avatar

In the case of the car, you’d be made to replace it with one as good or better, and skipping the jail time and maybe the fees.
What about Bernie Madoff? He sure didn’t need the money.

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

@Nullo Neither of those solutions constitutes restitution in my mind. You’d really want a person who had been raped to spend the rest of her days with her assailant? That’s horrible!

As far as minor non-violent crimes, there would be a lot of details to figure out, and I think it would have to be considered on a case to case basis. However, in some circumstances, restitution may be a more productive option. Again, it would rely entirely on the circumstances.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

Have you ever loaned anyone money before?;)

Nullo's avatar

I said that if the guy weren’t horrible, then maybe.

wonderingwhy's avatar

@faye it is if the earnings are paid to the victim. the fact that our current system doesn’t do that is an additional issue that would need to be addressed. the state receives the benefits of the labor, the victim receives the benefit of the wages earned.

jeffgoldblumsprivatefacilities's avatar

@Nullo I think being a rapist automatically makes a person horrible, without exception.

Axemusica's avatar

@Nullo lol if they guy weren’t horrible? He just raped someone. I’d say he’s far from being Mr. Green Jeans.

jangles's avatar

I think it merits an all together deeper question; what is the point of punishing criminals?

If it is to correct there behavior, then this would turn into a sort of A Clockwork Orange type of question; is it morally wrong to force someone to choose what is right?

If it is to reclaim justice (eye for an eye and so on) then I would say that restitution would be the most fitting punishment (but it would have to be very precise restitution, to mirror the crime in its opposite and equal effect)

However if it is to console public contempt and please the majority, then either incarceration or the death penalty would be most effective. (Depending of course, on the nature of the crime)

Nullo's avatar

I seem to remember a story from health class all those years ago about what constitutes rape, and mentioned that sometimes it’s boyfriends :\
It’s a narrow margin, to be sure.
I’d say that a good standby would be the noose.

_Liliya_'s avatar

@Nullo I am so glad that you brought this topic up. I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a while now.

For I have always believed that the criminal justice system, in America at least, is screwed up. Incarceration is just not the best option for criminals.

I think America is in desperate need of prison reform. For we are losing valuable individuals, even if they are criminals, in prison. Wasting away in prison is not going to solve anyone’s problems, or take back what he or she did, and its really just a waste of money. I think a policy around the lines of community service and rehabilitation would be much better than letting them rot away in some expensive prison.

When you think of how much we waste every year by keeping people in prison, the typical cost per person is $35,000, it makes sense that we should need to reform the system. Just imagine if we could put criminals to better use and keep them out of prison, the benefits would be tremendous. I think if we all put our heads together and thought about it for a while, we could come up with a pretty sweet solution.

Humans can accomplish great things and prison reform could be one of them…

Great question by the way. :)

jerv's avatar

That would be un-American.

Revenge is necessary to appease the public. Who cares about actual justice so long as the masses feel vindicated and placated?

john65pennington's avatar

Your idea is good, but in principle, it would never work. how can a theif make restitution if he is stealing for money, in the first place? how can you make restitution after you have killed a family member? restitution might work in auto crashes, but nothing else.

valdasta's avatar

Some folks steel for the thrill of it.
They may be addicted to the endorphins released in the brain.

little off the subject

jerv's avatar

Actually, I just thought of one other prolem. See, the poor (who are more likely to commit petty property crimes) are unable to pay restitution through financial methods whereas there are rich people who could buy their way out of trouble. Hell, even under our current system, enough $$$ will literally allow you to get away with murder.

I think it’d be nice if we worked harder on rehabilitation and eliminating the root cause of criminal behavior. It’d cut down on the rate of repeat offenders. As it stands, once you get put away, your best bet when you get out is to get tossed back in; you can’t get a job so it may be the only way to get three hots and a cot, as well as free medical care.

Axemusica's avatar

I say harsher punishments for crimes. It would be more incentive to not do the crime in the first place. The eye for an eye premise will only work for lesser crimes. As for murder, rape, child molestation…. Just fucking cut their balls off or kill’em. History show’s that most if not all get out and do it again. So just punish them right the first time. Kind of like clean house.

jerv's avatar

@Axemusica You’d pretty much have to kill them. There is nothing more dangerous than a person who has nothing left to lose. Of course, I don’t know how well a “One strike and you’re dead” legal system would work in the real world….

wonderingwhy's avatar

@john65pennington in the case of the thief I’d ask why is he stealing for money? does the thief have no skills to get even a job in basic manual labor? will no one hire them? or is it that they’d rather steal than get a job? in all cases forced labor can generate financial restitution if the state is willing to pay for the services the criminal is capable of providing.

In the case of violent crimes, that’s different. But tougher (not necessarily longer) prison time may be the answer in some cases as a deterrent. I’d be curious as to how many people would pull the trigger during a robbery if it meant 20 year of true solitary confinement. And yes, I realize I’m butting up against the cruel and unusual punishment statutes but just as an example.

Addressing the motivations to commit crime seems like a much better focus in general.

Axemusica's avatar

@jerv well of course I mean for more heinous crimes, but we’ll never know if it works if we don’t try. Alas, it’ll probably never happen though.

@wonderingwhy stealing for money is selling the hot goods for dirt cheap. I’ve had jobs and still stole stuff. It’s kind of like dealing drugs. You get the goods and supply people with them and it’s kind of a quick turn over rate if you’re good at it. Sometimes the thrill is just worth it too. Well, not necessarily “worth” it, but a “thrill” nonetheless.

Zuma's avatar

I’m sure it is probably unintentional but this question poses a false choice between “restitution” and “incarceration.”

As a consequence, people immediately leap to the case of rape and murder, which between them account for less than 0.05% of all crime. So, right off the bat, people are framing broad questions of “crime” and “justice” in the most emotional possible terms and using the most atypical cases to formulate their ideas about crime. Not surprisingly, the juiced up conversation quickly slides downhill to earnest proposals that we mutilate and kill people “just to see” if it would “work.”

I don’t know why people think it is some kind of bright new idea that if you just make the penalties harsh enough people will be terrorized into law-abiding obedience. It’s been tried over and over and over throughout history, and has never worked. Perhaps the best documented case (other than our own) is England during the rein of Henry VIII. There, the penalty for nearly every crime—even pinching a loaf of bread—was death by hanging. Even children were sent to the gallows. It had absolutely no deterrent effect on crime. In fact, it had the opposite effect. It made people even bolder, as the saying, “Might as well get hung for a sheep as a lamb.” attests.

In fact, the rate at which people were put to death was roughly the same as the rate we incarcerate people (i.e., about 1 per 100) population. In this respect, we are now the most punitive society on earth by far, and our crime rates are no different than other industrialized democracies. We have about 6% of the world’s population and between 26% and 30% of the world’s prisoners. We are one of a handful of countries that puts children to death, and we are the only country in the world that sends children to prison for life without possibility of parole. And, in fact, we actually execute more children than all other countries combined.

All these brutal measures succeed in doing is cheapening life and creating a more vengeful and brute force oriented society overall. It’s not for nothing that death penalty states like Texas have higher rates of murder and violent crime than states which have outlawed the death penalty. Harming people who harm people in order to show them that harming people is wrong is fundamentally flawed as an idea.

First, restitution is just one aspect of a more general restorative approach to justice. If restitution is forced on the offender or simply becomes a way of punishing him further; e.g., by piling on a crushing debt (as it often is today) it will, of course, be self-defeating. In restorative justice the emphasis is not about inflicting pain on the offender because that’s what he “deserves,” but getting the offender to acknowledge the harm he has caused and getting him to take responsibility for “putting right” whatever he can.

Since 99.5% of all crimes are not rape and murder, this is should be widely applicable and appropriate. Even in cases of rape and murder, the evidence suggests that it does seem to help the victims to move on when they can find out why the offender did what he did and whether he is sorry about it. In some cases, they find they are able to forgive the offender, which seems to be much more healing and closure-promoting than straight up vengeance.

I’ve been to prison and I’ve met literally hundreds of thieves like @Axemusica. He is right, they don’t steal out of necessity; mostly, they are opportunists who have no regard for the rights and feelings of others. Threatening them with even more dire punishments will have absolutely no effect. Trust me, going to prison is already a dire punishment and it hasn’t stopped anybody I know from stealing. (According to a friend of mine who is a Catholic priest, practically everybody steals.) Threatening to kill people or cut their balls off would only succeed in getting them to turn in their partners in crime. I would bet @Axemusica that some of his old buddies are on their second time down by now—and if they thought they could get 30 days off their sentence, they have probably already given him up for some crime of note he has committed in the past. I’ve seen it before.

Anyway, restorative justice is all about harm mitigation and harm reduction, and that involves addressing the reasons why the offender offends. Not everyone steals just because they want stuff and they don’t care how they get it. Only about 16% of the people in prison are there because they caused some person actual harm. That is about 4.5% are there on some sort of violent crime; and about 9% are there because of some property crime. The vast majority of people in prison are there because of drugs, and race has a lot to do with it. About 25% to 30% of the people in prison are there because they are mentally ill; around 56% are there on a parole violation, mostly for some bullshit technical beef, like missing an appointment with their P.O. or having beer cans in their trash—i.e., things that are not even crimes. (Obviously, these categories overlap).

People like @Axemusica are going to keep on doing what they are doing until they decide to stop. Threatening to cut their balls off or otherwise brutalizing them has absolutely no effect. When you throw them in prison, it only pisses them off and makes them worse. Once you’ve been to prison, no matter how bad it is, you are no longer scared of it—and once you’re no longer scared of prison, you’re going to keep on doing what you want to do, and nothing is going to stop you.

Axemusica's avatar

Geez @Zuma I feel used. haha,
Just to let you know, I decided to stop along time ago and also to confirm your assumption, I do have friends on their second time down, but some are for different crimes now. Though it did take my good friends going to prison to get me to change my attitude about it.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of prisoners really shouldn’t even be there and I completely understand the ideology of once been there but maybe the time needs to be a little more severe? One of my friends in particular, has been put away in a federal prison. He’s already served 3–4 years and has 3 more years to go and my friend that talks to him on the phone every once in a while says that he’s done. He wants to go straight finally and in order for him to finally get it imprinted into his skull was to put him in a mean prison for a long period of time. Although, he has said it before, but from what I understand he sounded sincere this time.

I’m not challenging your opinion on this matter, because obviously you know quite a lot more than I. I just don’t understand how criminals just keep on repeating and repeating after multiple terms. It just seems like they need a more dire consequence to instill it in their mind that what they’ve been doing isn’t right regardless of wealth and family life. Instead of the once been concept maybe repeat offenders should be treated more harshly and I don’t mean tacking on more years, but that also might be motive enough for some, but not all.

I guess, as long as there will be law, there will be criminals.

Zuma's avatar

@Axemusica Sorry about that. But you have to consider that for people who don’t know much about crime and punishment, hearing some “self-confessed criminal” say that he thinks that criminal penalties need to be made harsher is all they need to set them off on a binge of mindless cruelty. That’s partly how we’ve gotten into the current mess.

Prison is all about the disciplinarian ideology that “actions must have consequences.” All it does is escalate the antagonism between prisoners and guards. We have about 44,000 people in solitary confinement because the people in charge think that brute force is the way you get people to “behave.” It isn’t. People behave because they are emotionally invested in relationships, and those relationships give them a good reason to stay out of trouble. Punishment not destroys those relationships but the person’s capacity for relationships.

When you were out running and doing your thing, were you really thinking about the consequences? Nobody I ever met ever expected to get caught. From what you say, it wasn’t the severity penalties that persuaded you to go straight, it was the prospect of getting caught—which, once they get on to your friends, becomes increasingly likely.

Did you know that the penalty for possession of crack cocaine (second offense) is about the same as second degree murder? Do you think that has deterred even one crack head from smoking crack?

I have no doubt that your friend is sincere about wanting to go straight, but if he’s so emotionally damaged and adapted to life in the institution that he can’t form the relationships necessary to keep him out of trouble, you can threaten him with torture and death and it won’t matter one bit. The reason that “criminals” keep on repeating term after term, is not because the penalties aren’t severe enough; it’s because the penalties are so severe that they dehumanize the person and brutalize the decency right out of them.

In advocating more severe punishments, you are thinking like a thug. It only makes things worse, especially since it tends to reinforce social injustice. Please go check out my blog on justice specifically The Normal Punishments of Prison, The War Against Inmates, and Inmates Forced to Drink Poison Water

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