How to beat crime

Idea 1: Make criminals work to repay the damages to society.

Admittedly the problem of crime is extremely complex and a solution requires a grand and integrated solution that needs to simultaneously deal with many subtle as well as obvious variables.

 In this article I am only going to talk about one idea I believe could make an impact on crime in the both the medium and long term.

 This is not a new idea. I suspect human rights challenges combined with legal bureaucracy, an inability to “think outside of the box”, a unwillingness to try something creative or take a risk is some of the reasons this idea have not been implemented (to its full potential).

 I suggest that any crime committed by any person should automatically carry a cost order. The criminal should be expected to repay this cost order before he/she is released. However, this “repayment” needs to happen in a very specific way in order to maximise the effect of the “punishment”. Let me put it less “old testament”. The terms of repayment must insure that the perpetrator is extra motivated to become rehabilitated.

 Concept of the cost to society

In terms of property related crimes the overall damage done to society is almost always more than the value related to the specific property involved. A thug might rob somebody for their R100 phone, but the victim (and society in general) will lose allot more than just a R100.

The victim will feel violated and experience fear when walking in public, thus his/or her quality of life has been directly influenced. Think about it, that person will most certainly feel traumatised and this could develop into psychological problems. The victim will have to adapt, take different roots, leave phone at home, invest in security measures etc. All these things have a cost associated with it.

If the victim is willing to invest a considerable amount of his/her time (time = value = money) into a very user unfriendly, tedious and inconvenient justice system, he can go the police station and open a case.

Now things are going to get quite expensive. The police, the detectives, the prosecutors, the magistrate, the correctional services and everybody in between are “professionals” and needs to be paid. One can argue that they receive a monthly salary, meaning that the amount of cases they work on does not impact on the cost, but that would be incorrect. Each case directly influence costs because of extra resources(e.g stationary, petrol etc) that could have been spared, or indirectly in terms of time witch the “professional” could have spent solving dealing with another case.

You can add cost associated with keeping people in prison as well as the indirect cost to the community. Cost to the community might include business being lost or cost related to security measures.

My conclusion is that crime fighting, as it stands now, does not make business sense. To fix a problem for example, valued at a R100.00, you need to spend R10 000.00.

I appreciate the fact that taking a “money making /profit orientated business” approach could easily lead to unethical practices like abuses, exploitation and corruption, but I need to emphasise the burden this extreme difference in cost puts on society. Is it worth it considering the daunting social and economic challenges this country faces? Unfortunately we do not have much of a choice; we need to pay to uphold law, as anarchy will be even less fun.

My suggestion is that we try to reduce that “difference in cost” by implementing creative solutions. Developing a system where criminals can repay the damages is one such a possible solution.  

Calculating the damages to society

Before I explain what I mean with “terms /mechanisms of repayment”, I am going to talk about how I believe we should calculate the cost to be repaid. This cost should be calculated using a formula witch does not only take into account the crime and its seriousness, but it should also take into account the damages done to the specific victim as well as costs incurred by the state to get him to, and keep him in prison.

I could imagine upon conviction the magistrate would hand down the sentence and then give the criminal a bill with something like this on it:

Prescribed crime cost: theft(R1000.00)  + Cost to victim(R100.00  + R5000) + cost to state (R10 000 police + R10 000 judiciary + R4500 per Month Correctional) +  external claimants(R1500.00)

Mechanisms of Repayment

Two major problems arise: 1) you can’t pay what you don’t have. 2) Rich people can easily pay without worrying too much.

That is why “the terms of repayment” (read mechanism of repayment) should be designed to insure that we get both our money back and that the perpetrator changes from criminal to law abiding citizen(get rehabilitated).

All this needs to be done within the boundaries of the constitution (human rights and all that….).  

To do this will require the design and maintenance of a reasonably complex system, which like the overall solution to crime, needs to deal with many variables. I am not going to get into too much detail, expect to mention that I believe it is possible and viable.

The vision in my head for such a system would revolve around allowing prisoners to earn credits in prison for work done. These credits must not be calculated according to the free market value of the particular labour involved, but calculated in terms of effort, time and production. The prison must create the systems and infrastructure to convert this labour into value(money) witch must be paid back to all people involved(the police, the victim etc).

Converting labour into value (money) is a matter of creativity, and could include producing items for sale, or providing services for free to the state(reduce tax spend) or controversially provide services to the private sector. Converting this labour efficiently into value will be critically important and involving actual business people (as opposed to state administrators), to drive this process makes sense.

Human right is bit of a downer

I read somewhere that prisoners have the option to work in prison, but the vast majority of them choose not to, and if I remember correctly, they cannot be forced and is in this way protected by the constitution.

That is a tough one. But, I believe we can get around it by being creative. I would aim to create a situation where the criminal feels he needs(he must) to have credits to get by. Credits might buy you certain things like a chance to go to the smoking room and smoke alone. Or moving to a single sell,…stuff like that. The credits could be used as a requirement for release, or a requirement to qualify for parole. If the credit system is designed to exclude the possibility of in-prison exploitation (eg. earning credits is possible, but no further trading amongst prisoners. All transactions are very specific and controlled by the prison….)

Anyway, if such a system was to be implemented successfully, the victims of crime will experience a form of restorative justice and obviously the money saved (or made) could be used to invest in more important things like education.