Wednesday, October 17, 2007

mandatory minimums

Since they're in the Throne Speech, why not talk about them?

I was invited to a Facebook group against all mandatory minimum sentencing because it doesn't prevent crimes and, the group alleges, is used by governments to play up and encourage peoples' fears of crimes even in the face of decreases in the incidence of crime.

The general idea behind mandatory minimum sentencing is to make the perceived expected cost of a crime greater than the perceived expected benefit of a crime to a potential criminal, and in this way make it seem unprofitable and therefore deter them from committing said crime. Expected costs can be made higher in two ways: higher chance of getting caught (more cops), or higher costs (fines, jail time, insurance premiums, etc.)

Apparently there have been studies done (there have - Google it) and in a lot of cases (though not all) mandatory minimums have had no measurable effect on the occurrence of crimes. (Specifically drug crimes, but some others as well.)

Now, obviously I'm opposed to minimum sentencing for drug charges, because I'm opposed to drugs being illegal and that any jail time, let alone mandatory minimums, does significantly more to ruin someone's life than possession or use.

I'm also opposed to mandatory minimums for an accessory details to a crime, such as the presence of a gun with the criminal... if someone is committing a crime what they're doing it with should not really matter - what matters is that they're doing it and the extent of the harm that they cause.

But let's assume that the studies are right, and that mandatory minimums are unlikely to prevent a crime - what if that crime is very serious? For instance rape, murder, and perhaps theft over a certain amount. In these cases, I think that punishing someone for extensive harm to another person, even if it doesn't necessarily justify mandatory minimums, it certainly makes them understandable.

Maybe I'm missing something, but the only reason I can see for blanket opposition to mandatory minimums is a reaction to their overuse.

cross-posted to The Natural Society

10 comments:

UpMyKilt said...

"For instance rape, murder, and perhaps theft over a certain amount. In these cases, I think that punishing someone for extensive harm to another person, even if it doesn't necessarily justify mandatory minimums, it certainly makes them understandable."

Except that, mandatory minimums do nothing - absolutely NOTHING for the victim other than perhaps some emotional subjective idea and desire for punishment.

A civil system where the person responsible actually PAYS the victim for the damages they caused would be far better than simply incarcerating someone.

Payment could be in the form of labour.

I'll have to think about this a bit more, but some Scottish history comes to mind, where if a person murdered the "bread winner" of a family, the murderer was now to be responsible for providing for whomever the bread winner was providing for.

I seriously have to think through this much more - as I can see the "benefit" of some folk being incarcerated - on the other hand, take a manslaughter conviction - what is the point of incarcerating that person, if they could actually be objectively repaying in some way for their actions?

Scruffy Dan said...

Mandatory minimums take away flexibility from the judge. That is it.

For serious crimes the judge has at his disposal the ability to give the maximum sentence if he feels it is justified.

A Mandatory minimum sentence (in some cases) can prevent a judge from giving a sentence which he feels is appropriate, and if they don't reduce crime rates (criminals aren't known for their rational decisions) then i see little point, no matter how horrendus the crime.

Ryan R said...

I don't see how mandatory minimum sentences could fail to reduce crime. If nothing else, they would serve to lengthen the period of time that a convicted criminal spends behind bars - hence preventing him or her from committing new crimes. Logically, then, it should serve to cut down on the incidence of criminals commiting repeat offences.

In any event, the real reason that a lot of Canadians - including myself - want mandatory minimum sentences for the worst of crimes, and for repeat violent offenders, is... a belief in justice/punishment.

The problem is that it's politically incorrect in our country these days to say that, so many supporters of mandatory minimum sentences have to pretend it's all about reducing crime when really a lot of it has to do with the perfectly reasonable position that people who commit truly vile crimes should pay a truly stiff penalty for it.

For a lot of Canadians, we simply feel that murderers, and rapists, and violent offenders in general, get off far too easy these days, and basically deserve stricter penalties than what Judges give them.

I think that our legal system today is far too biased towards sympathizing with convicted criminals, and hence doesn't care enough about ensuring that victims feel as though that some respectable semblance of justice has been done (there's no penalty that'll ever 'make up for' a rape or a murder, but some penalties feel more appropriate and deserving than others).

Now, all of this being said, I think it's terrible to waste tax payers' dollars in jailing people simply for smoking marijuana - as long as these folks aren't engaging in something like impaired driving, they're absolutely harmless to the rest of society, and we should leave them be.

Weapon offences are given greater import than unarmed offences because, for some strange reason, liberals think that it's worst to be killed with a gun than to be killed by an unarmed man. The Prime Minister is hence trying to make his crime package seem more centrist by having liberal elements (weapon offences are worst than unarmed offences) in there along with conservative elements (higher mandatory minimum sentences).

Overall, though, I really like this crime package, and I think that it's high time that rapists and murderers and other violent offenders started to face real penalties for their terrible crimes.

And yes... we want Judges to have less flexibility because many Judges have become too soft.

OMMAG said...

The purpose of mandatory minimum sentencing is to minimize the ability of stupid judges from inflicting their stupidity on the public!

John M Reynolds said...

UpMyKilt, how much should be paid? If a poor person kills a high paid bean counter (actuarial mathematician) while robbing a bank, how could they ever be able to pay enough to support the family. Now let's turn it around. What if that bean counter stole a lot of money and in an effort to cover it up, killed a cop while trying to get away. Can that bean counter continue to work at their profession in order to pay to support the cop's family? If the cop earned 50,000 a year but the bean counter makes 150,000 a year, then is that bean counter not simply buying his way out of jail?

I agree with Ryan. With criminals constantly being portrayed as victims -- it is society's fault -- people need to realize that personal responsibility is required. Punishment and mandatory sentences reenforces that.

I would prefer to see mandatory sentences for convicted repeat offenders.

As well, as ommag said, with Canadian law, other than in quebec, being based on precedence, mandatory sentencing is one way of getting rid of poorly set precedences.

zolton said...

Precedents are progressive and should be kept. In Canada pot smokers don't get locked away for years, because of the precedents set by a few judges who saw no meaning in jailing stoner's.

You can't have static minimums for most crimes. What happens during a crime should effect the judgment of the judge and jury and time spent in jail, including no time at all.
Crimes of compassion and violent crimes could get intermingled.
It's like slapping a label + sentence to the crime with ought understanding what the heck happened!
The courts should be organic, if sentencing gets too ridicules the public gets in a fury. Judges politicians, cops, civil servants and lawyers take note.
Here in Manitoba where I live Garreth McDonald, A provincial PC party candidate was intoxicated and killed two people with his vehical. I feel awful for the family of the victims don't get me wrong. But whats the point in locking this kid away? His career is over his life is in shambles he probably will suffer from depression why lock him away?
The point I'm trying to reiterate is that these instances aren't just statistics, so the sentencing shouldn't be static. The publics view would become more parochial instead of understanding to these situations.
Although never legitimate, violence sometimes can be justified.
Power although legitimate should never be justifiable.

That balance shouldn't be static organic.

Janet said...

zolton,
Some parts of your argument are actually pretty good and I agree with a lot of the things you've said (wow!), though I think that if you made the instances where mandatory minimums were applied much more restricted it would solve some of the problems you put out, but seriously - it never ceases to amaze me that you know words like "parochial" and say things like "static organic," but can't spell "vehicle."
A little spell check goes a long way.

UpMyKilt said...

John,

As I wrote, I'll have to think this through some more - but presently, we ALL pay to have people incarcerated - and the incarcerated folk don't do a hell of a lot to earn their own keep, do they?

Under the present system, who profits from crime when a criminal is incarcerated?

Cops and jail guards. Not that anyone should profit - but it seems to me that there is no "payment" on behalf of the criminal by simply languishing in a jail cell doing nothing.

We call it "paying back society" but in reality, there is no economic payment being made by the criminal to the victim.

Ryan R said...

zolton wrote... Here in Manitoba where I live Garreth McDonald, A provincial PC party candidate was intoxicated and killed two people with his vehical. I feel awful for the family of the victims don't get me wrong. But whats the point in locking this kid away?

Because he did something that was grossly irresponsible and dangerous, and he obviously should pay a price for that.

His reckless and potentially lethal to others decisions resulted in the deaths of two people.

Two people died because of his poor, and negligent, decision making... and you don't want him to go to jail at all for it?

Your very argument, Zolton, tells me that we need higher mandatory minimum sentences because we've created a society where many people like yourself are excusing abhorrent crimes of neglect, if not intentional malice.

There's no excuse for drinking and driving. Either you shouldn't drink if you plan on driving later, or you should find a sober designated driver to do the driving for you if you will be consuming a significant amount of alcohol (i.e. enough to get you over the limit). That's just basic common sense and human decency to me.


His career is over his life is in shambles he probably will suffer from depression why lock him away?


Because his reckless and negligent actions cost two people their lives.

Furthermore, people who drink and drive also often have a problem with alcohol - a problem that makes them dangerous. Look at all those celebrities in Hollywood that can't stop doing it again... and again... and again.

One of these days someone like Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton is going to kill someone - someone that they might not have killed if they actually were made to serve some serious jail time and/or genuinely be rehabilitated from excissive alcohol use combined with driving.

zolton said...

"One of these days someone like Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton is going to kill someone - someone that they might not have killed if they actually were made to serve some serious jail time"
I dont see how jail time would change them unless there war some program inside the jail. Plus they wont serve jail time no matter what for the USA is a Corporate oligarchy.

Im fine with rehabilitation but whats the point in locking this kid away?
Drinking and driving in Canada is almost systematized!
Socials, Hockey beer leagues, no cops outside of the bars after last call. Most of these people are driving intoxicated!
This problem is waaaay bigger then this one instance.