On Crime and Punishment

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Seeing an “expert” in the field of crime and punishment post his thoughts on how to reform our judicial system to get less crime and punishment has got me thinking: Why is this so hard in the first place?

I think the answer lies in complexity. We, as humans, do terrible with complicated things. The more complicated something becomes, the more likely we are to get it all wrong. The tale of the blind men and the elephant wouldn’t be so fascinating if they were examining something simple, like a stick.

I don’t think the reason why we have so many criminals is because they don’t understand the law. I doubt there is anyone in prison today who thought they were keeping the law when in fact they broke it. (If there is, it is an injustice to keep them in there.)

The reason why we have so many criminals is because the law is so complicated that crime actually pays. See, if you pull of a massive fraud on investors, it will take twenty years for investigators to discover the crime, another ten to put together a case, and then a couple more years to actually hand down your sentence. That’s a long and full life of crime, where you are untouched by the law. Crime does pay.

If the law were simpler, then crime would be easier to punish. And if it were easier to punish, we would punish more criminals. And this would be a deterrent.

So, for example, if you decided to perpetrate a fraud on the people, investigation would take an afternoon, the trial would last another day, and sentencing would be a few hours. And then you would be suffering the punishment for your crime, rather than enjoying a lifetime of benefits from your criminal acts.

We have built up traditions and practices and policies, and even laws, that prevent us from doing the above. We are so sensitive to people’s rights that we forget the victim’s rights in all of this. The law is supposed to balance the two, not give preference to one or the other. Traditions and practices and policies are supposed to expedite the application of law, not hold it off its application for as long as possible.

To change our judicial system, I propose we go back to a simpler time when laws read more like the 10 commandments and less like legalese you’d find on the back of your credit card statement. I am confident that we can boil down all of our civil laws into a few simple statements focused around individual rights. All of court procedure and investigation procedure can likewise be boiled down to a few lines of text. The entire state and federal code should be something you can read in a few hours, maximum. Little children should be able to memorize the principle concepts and adults should be able to memorize the whole thing.

But we’ll need the cooperation of the courts. As long as appellate and supreme courts keep themselves busy overturning lower courts on the most trivial of technicalities, cases are going to drag on and on. Appellate courts and supreme courts should only act in obvious cases of injustice.

Most importantly, if we, the people, begin to demand a simpler judicial system and the faster application of the law in criminal cases, we will get what we ask for. Simply evaluate candidates and determine whether they will help you get what you want or stand in the way, and vote appropriately.

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