QED

Let’s Make Crime Pay

Victims of crime live with the consequences of those attacks long after perpetrators have done their time and been released, more often than not to re-offend. Taxpayers also suffer, as the public purse must cover the steep cost of incarceration. Why not oblige offenders to make whole all those they harm?

muggerWe live in a world of George Constanzas, the Seinfeld character perpetually angry with everything and everyone, convinced that the world owes them a quality living. They are not shy to express their anger violently towards anyone weaker than themselves. Sudden and unprovoked assaults on strangers, resulting in a grievous bodily and mental harm have become just another reason for a shrug of resignation and a deep sigh of helplessness in law-abiding citizens. Victims are left to struggle with the violent dislocation of their lives and its long-term consequences. Our police, frustrated by politically correct leaders and courts’ unwillingness to throw the book at the violent thugs, increasingly struggle to filter their frontline responses through a mesh of explicit and implicit restraints ordained from above. When members of a designated “victim” group rampage, bitter experience has taught officers that it is more than their careers are worth to act and act decisively.

And violent offenders? Incarcerated at the taxpayers’ expense ($110 000.00 a year per prisoner, on average, if you please!), they are not required to pay any damages to the victims they have injured or the taxpayers whose pockets they drain. True, there are so-called restitution orders, but these are imposed at judges’ discretion and seldom invoked.

According to a report on the costs of the criminal justice system by Andrew Bushnell, of  the Institute of Public Affairs, Australia’s criminal- justice spending is the fifth-highest among comparable OECD countries, amounting to almost $16 billion in the 2014-15 financial year alone. This comes to roughly $300 per prisoner per day. Out of this gargantuan sum, $4 billion is spent on the construction and operation of prisons.  The rate of re-offending is high. Nationwide, 59% of prisoners have been previously incarcerated. Clearly, something is wrong.

 “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”

That famous quotation from The Torah, or as Gentiles call it, Old Testament, is not known for its timidity. It seems to be calling for vengeance — unrestrained, wanton, unbridled, blind, furious, passionate vengeance. At least, that is what the guru of the non-violent political advancement, Mahatma Gandhi, seem to believe when he famously quipped, ‘An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind’.

Well, not exactly. It might surprise, but the biblical call for retribution does not negate the need for restraint and common sense in its application. What it does do is provide measured and clearly delineated response parameters when violence is perpetrated. What it does say is that the punishment must fit the crime and be commensurate with the degree of the offence’s severity.

The perpetrator’s “eye” cannot be taken as a payment for a “broken tooth” because an eye can only be taken as a punishment for the victim’s loss of an eye. To demand an eye for a tooth would be overkill.

In one succinct sentence, using these metaphoric descriptors, the Bible offers the entire concept of precisely formulated and just retribution. This pattern does not limit itself to physical retribution, however. It also offers management of the long-term consequences of the committed crime, which are so often not limited to immediate physical injury and anguish. The victim’s future is also affected, perhaps in a reduced ability   to earn a living and provide for a family. Likewise the psychological scars endure — fear of dark streets, maybe, or the compulsion to check and re-check that doors and windows are always locked. No one doubts fear’s legacy lingers long and hard; it was, after all, the basis for the recent claims against US Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, whose purported teenage hunnishness was accepted without question by Christine Blasey Ford’s supporters as having made her forever fearful of confined spaces. In demanding that a criminal suffer a loss similar to the one inflicted on his victim, the biblical formula equalises crime and consequence, obliging the criminal to contemplate and grieve his own loss as a consequence of his personal action.

Demand for equalisation of an injury imposes a structural boundary for the future behaviour in a criminal’s life. It might or might not serve as an effective deterrent, but it would certainly go a long way to assuaging the victim’s injured sense of justice. In this sense, the criminal/victim connection is not dissimilar to a connection between absent father and child. In both cases, the consequences of a single action, premediated or not, last a long time. They differ in one important dimension: the absent father pays alimony/child support until the fruit of his loins is able to provide for him/herself. A criminal, having inflicted long-lasting damage onto his victim, is seldom, if ever, required to do likewise.

There is no mention of any role of a State, a country or a supportive and forgiving community, let alone future rehabilitation of any kind in the Bible when it comes to crime. Nothing but personal responsibility. Offender’s interests are considered only insofar as they co-operate with the system’s intent to recompense the victim. This is in stark contrast to the contemporary concept of criminal justice, where a malefactor is supposed to be rehabilitated for re-integration into society. A court is obliged to weigh up the chances a criminal will re-offend and his prospects for leading a reformed life. The interests of a violent crime’s victim come a poor second, if at all. The State, maintaining the monopoly on retribution, interposes itself between the criminal and victim. Thus does the State deprive the victim of a satisfaction in witnessing just and deserved punishment meted out to the tormentor.  By the same token, it also deprives a criminal of the chance to redeem himself through the very personal path of objectively, rather than emotionally, demonstrating remorse by putting his mouth where his money is and paying the cost of his crime to both the society and the victim.

How do we make them pay? Violent criminals, who inflict a sometime life-long suffering on their victims and loved ones, have no obligations towards their victims’ welfare or, for that matter, to taxpayers who fund the cost of imprisonment. Once prison time has been served, punishment ends and all debts are deemed to have been paid. True, a victim might be compensated from a victim-of-crime fund, but that money comes from the blameless. In essence, we, the law-abiding citizens, are paying the criminal’s debts.  This on top of the cost of maintaining criminals in our prison, which is drawn from the same source.

It is my contention that one of the best ways to impose effective limits on violent crime, short of corporal or capital punishment, is the imposition of the monetary penalties on the criminal. It is quite simply wrong, morally and ethically, to invoice third-party innocents — taxpayers, in other words — for the cost of crimes for which they are in no way responsible.

The presently popular system of ‘user pays’, supported by the near universal computerisation, could and should change the situation of the financial near-impunity of violent criminals, especially for the first-time offenders and those who are genuinely remorseful. Prospectively, this measure can serve as an alternative to incarceration, relieve jail overcrowding, reduce tax dollar spending and reduce recidivism.

The necessity to pay from legitimately earned funds the cost of their prison upkeep, plus what might be termed ‘remorse stipends’ to their victims could be decisive in discouraging re-offending. First, it might reduce the temptation to commit crimes in the first place. Second, the obligation to cover ‘remorse fund’ obligations will oblige criminals to seek legitimate on-the-books employment, which will itself help to keep them away from mischief. This is where prison or community-based rehabilitation programs should be effectively preparing offenders to earn money upon release, a court-mandated proportion of their earnings earmarked for making whole victims and the taxpayers alike.

Accept as a given that most hardened criminals do not pay taxes or work in legitimate occupations. However, many do collect welfare benefits. They do get enrolled in Medicare. They do send their children to state schools. They do use public hospitals. Therefore we are in a position to say ‘It’s your choice, mate: use civilised society’s resources or commit crimes, but not both. If you wish to use our resources, you will have to settle your debts to us. This includes compensating your victims and paying off what it cost to feed, keep and guard you while being detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure, even if only partially. Nothing brings the realisation that an action has consequences more pointedly than the inevitability of chickens coming home to roost.

The most serious argument against what I am proposing is that it would constitute a breach of such individuals’ human rights. Indeed, or so the argument might be framed, the very humanity of our society is attested by its treatment of minorities, mental health patients, elderly, children and, yes, prisoners.  Therefore, anything other than and beyond the present system contradicts the foundational cornerstone of liberal democratic society.  In this I beg to differ. Violent criminals’ violation and denial of their victims’ rights abrogates the entitlement to equal treatment with non-offenders. Anyway, we already imprison criminals, thus curtailing their right to freedom and pursuit of happiness. Why not be consistent and follow this pathway to its logical conclusion by demanding financial restitution in full or in part?

We can start with our courts sentencing violent criminals not only to imprisonment but also to an obligatory payment of a certain, legitimately earned sum to be paid to the victim(s) and/or the State.  In so doing we can make sure that commission of violent crimes is personally expensive, ideally prohibitively so.  Via sky-high sales taxes we make smokers pay for the costs they impose on the health system. Why should criminality be exempted from the same philosophy that makes nicotine addicts liable? The short answer: it shouldn’t.

Dr Michael Galak and his family came to Australia as refugees from the Soviet Union in 1978. He wishes to thank the IPA’s Andrew Bushnell for his generous assistance

16 comments
  • Keith Kennelly

    Michael

    What you want to do is change the whole basis of westernise.

    I society is not built on some ancient scribbling.

    It is based in the philosophies of reason and peacefulness of thet enlighentment.
    We rejected the idea of religion and religious teaching dominating our lives… we still do.

    Our enlightened thinkers set us on a course of rejecting ‘payback, and vengeance in favour of loving one another and being forgiving.

    That is why the focus of our judicial system is rehabilitation instead of retribution. True we have incarceration, fines and other lesser penalties. We rejected an eye for an eye and it’s basic philosophies a couple of centuries ago.

    What’s it got us?

    Mostly we live in a secure peace with our neighbours, seldom have to resort to physical violence, seek resolution not continued confrontation, accommodate the needs of people who would otherwise be our eternal enemies and mostly have rejected the death penalty.

    You philosophical basis doesn’t do any of that.

    Ni e to know you would want a death for a death,

  • shirley nott

    Yes, Michael, this is well overdue. Anyone who intentionally and knowingly commits a crime should be penalised in such a way as to do everything possible to rectify the damages of that crime.

    How do they ever know any guilt [which is necessary for correction]if this isn’t made extremely obvious to them?

    Fundamental logic that even children used to understand once, but not any more.

  • Lewis P Buckingham

    The Mosaic law was a spectrum leap for the time.
    It meant that the old fashioned way of resolving disputes, which involved wiping out enemies, was abrogated.
    ‘Attack the Midianites and strike them dead.’

    Response was to be proportionate, everyone of ones enemies need not die.
    The next leap, which reformed the Roman way of life was Christ’s command
    ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples’

    This does not mean, however, that as part of reconciliation, mercy and charity, the damages may not be assessed
    and some compensation paid.
    Practically this already happens in civil cases.
    Subject to judgement it could be applied to criminal cases.
    Many criminals are mentally ill and will receive the best mental health treatment while in jail.
    As such they are incapable of paying anyone back for damages.
    In these cases, perhaps Christ got it right.

    Just as an aside smokers actually help the health system by over subsidising it during their short lives and save the taxpayer
    the cost of long term health care and pensions.
    However the biggest suffering they impose is on themselves.
    They also lose a long life and fail to work, so denying the body politic the value of their work.
    Their families grieve in vain.
    The hard economics have been calculated here for cigar smokers.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25033140

  • lloveday

    /Just as an aside smokers actually help the health system by over subsidising it during their short lives and save the taxpayer the cost of long term health care and pensions/i>

    On average of course. Pleased that someone recognises the reality and the fallacy of the Nanny State’s claims.

    However the biggest suffering they impose is on themselves. They also lose a long life /i>.

    The vast majority realise that they, on average, live shorter lives, but I fail to see how that is a suffering – those that I see suffering are those who outlive the smokers (on that my grandfather, a heavy smoker, eater of much red meat and drinker of unpasteurised milk made 94, without any modern medical interventions; his wife 99, but then she did not smoke), languishing on pointlessly because of medical intervention. A non-smoker, both ways incontinent, wheelchair-bound man, one of that group of 5 extremely close friends some suggest we have, asked me to bring him a gun to kill himself – I replied that all he had to do was not eat or, particularly, drink, and he would be dead within a week, maybe just 4 days.
    This week alone two old people have expressed to me a wish to die – they are suffering because of a long life, not because of losing one.

    To make it clear, there is not a stronger opponent of legalised euthanasia than I – the governments can’t even collect rubbish properly or….., how could we allow them to decide when, how and why someone else can kill us?

  • whitelaughter

    Back in the 1960s Quadrant ran articles pointing out that fines on prostitutes could only be paid by the girls going out and finding more ‘customers’.

    How do you think that thieves will pay?

    You’re right that the incarceration bill is out of control. Simple solution – pay 3rd world countries to house long term criminals for us. We could even send them to countries appropriate to their religion, which should very quickly end the expansion of Islam in the prison population.

    And of course, bringing back hanging would solve a lot of problems. As would castrating sex offenders.

  • lloveday

    Castration does not 100% prevent recidivism. Hanging them would.

  • lloveday

    Quote: “True, a victim might be compensated from a victim-of-crime fund, but that money comes from the blameless. In essence, we, the law-abiding citizens, are paying the criminal’s debts”.

    Not so with only victim-of-crime fund I am familiar with, South Australia’s, where the fund gets money not from “law-abiding citizens”, but from law-breakers:

    The Victim of Crime Levy is imposed by legislation on any court fine or SA Police expiation notice and all expiation notices that have been enforced. This levy is paid to the Crown in order for people that are victims of crime to be able to draw on these funds if eligible“.

    I was very irked when, following a nod and a wink that the beak would not record a conviction or impose any fine or demerit points (viz zero penalty) if I changed my plea to guilty to speeding rather than expend further time and money appealing if she wrongly found me guilty, I got a demand for $160 Victims of Crime levy! And had to pay.

  • Jody

    You forget that cultural Marxism has so infiltrated the institutions and the legal profession that we now have to pity criminals and feel that we pay to pay for their plight. The idea of protecting the community, serving out appropriate punishment and vast reductions in parole would signal to the community that those people were NOT undeserving of punishment AND, well, it wouldn’t be fair; you’ve had all the advantages and it serves you right to be a victim of the unfortunate underclass. They are the real victims here and the legal profession is set up to prove it.

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