Friday, June 15, 2007

The Punishment Myth

Thanks to Ken Gibson for commenting on the recent University of Florida research finding that tougher DWI punishment laws may not deter people from driving drunk. Ken states in his post that:
I have said over and over and over, we must move our resources into education, rather than punishment. Until the powers that be, the Legislature, figures this out, they will continue to increase punishments to no avail.
Ken's comment reminded me of "The NORP Think Factor," Staige Productions (Winona, MN)(1994) where former judge Dennis A. Challeen observed:
Everyone fears punishment, and it's only normal this fear would act as a deterrent to future criminal behavior. Because of this deep-rooted belief, state and federal legislative bodies have gravitated towards "tougher laws" targeted at whatever crime seems to be loathed the most at any given time . . . Legislatures and Congress are designed to reflect the desires of their respective constituents. But do voters know best? Can their basic instincts [about punishment] be trusted when we are dealing with people who think and act differently from the norm? History books are loaded with examples of totally erroneous popular beliefs.
Judge Challeen went on to observe that judges have clearly responded to the "lock-em-up" mentality of the general public. Judges face elections, have mortgages, and have families to feed. No wonder they often succumb to public pressures, even pressures resulting from erroneous beliefs.

So the University of Florida study in telling us something we already knew - our criminal justice system is based on faulty premises. Look for future posts exploring these ideas in more detail.

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