Now there’s a sentiment guaranteed to put a few backs up; I suppose I’d better explain myself.
Please bear with me because first we must go back to basics. When someone commits a crime there are two considerations that determine how we respond: (1) do we want to reduce the likelihood of this happening again and (2) do we want revenge?
I can’t imagine any right-thinking human being answering no to question 1. Question 2 is a bit trickier in that, although most people would probably feel like they ought to say no, the reality is that we would almost all like to see the wrong doer punished. We rationalise the punishment by claiming it is there to reduce rates of offence, but it doesn’t. It would be ok if we could have it both ways, but we can’t; the evidence shows that revenge-based justice policies lead to higher crime rates. We are lying to ourselves, our need to punish comes only from a need for revenge and by giving in to that instinct we have lost sight of the importance of question 1.
Understandably, the people shouting most volubly for revenge are the victims and their families and this brings us back round to my original contentious statement. As it stands, victim’s groups have considerable sway when it comes to setting justice policy, as long as this continues crime rates will not go down. Until some brave soul stands up and says “I am sorry for the pain you have suffered and I understand your wish to see this person punished, but…” nothing will change.
By any metric, when it comes to the causes of crime, I am a bleeding-heart liberal. Many would disagree with my views, and that’s ok, because our beliefs as to why people offend are irrelevant here. The only thing we should consider when setting justice policy is what actually works to reduce crime rates. We should support victims in anyway we can – at some point, however, their wishes will come into conflict with what is best for society and then we must kindly but firmly say no.
In my view, the only issue of any importance to the question of how to set up our criminal justice system is finding the best way to reduce the number of future victims. Evidence has shown that putting the rights of prisoners above the wishes of victims reduces rates of reoffending and so, for the sake of society and in this situation only, criminal rights should come first.
1. Not without exception, and victims who call for rehabilitation and prison reform are amongst the people I regard most highly.
2. For example the recent introduction of the reading of a victim’s impact statement in court prior to sentencing. The courthouse should be a place of stone cold logic, emotion can only do harm to the process and we should be doing our best to eradicate it, not introducing more.