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Friday, November 8, 2013

Criminal Justice Quote: How Societies Deal with Crime

     For thousands of years, human societies have sought to reduce the frequency and severity of such harms as murder, robbery, and rape. Various techniques for dealing with such crimes have evolved over time. Broadly defined, these techniques have had much in common across societies and over time. They may be outlined in the following familiar terms.

     The first technique is to ensure that the potential criminal understands that he has far more to lose than to gain from committing the crime. This serves to disincentivize the act or deter the actor, by sending a clear and unequivocal message: not only will you not benefit from the act, but if you are caught doing it you will be severely disadvantaged. A useful example of this mechanism is the treble or punitive damage remedy, which disgorges all gains from the person who secured them improperly and imposes a punitive fine.

     The second technique is to incapacitate those who would carry out the actions by imprisoning them, killing them, keeping them away from places they wish to target, or otherwise making it impossible for them to be in a position to undertake the undesirable actions. A useful metaphor for incapacitation is the zoo, where wild animals are kept behind bars. We are not seeking the change the animal's propensities but are simply erecting an impermeable barrier between it and us.

     A third technique is to persuade the actor not to undertake the action, by rehabilitating, reeducating, or shaming him, convincing him that the action is wrong. A good example of this mechanism is requiring drunken drivers to attend classes or enter programs designed to influence behavior.

Alan Dershowitz, Why Terrorism Works, 2002

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