Sentencing and Reduction in Crime

December 24th, 2023 by dayat No comments »

Crime rate has always been an issue that people liked to argue about. Major concerns are always about the actions that can lower the crime rate. In some countries it is just the problem of education, some experience difficulties with overall stability of economics, and in some crime is a part of a country’s culture.

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However, in the U.S. the situation is different as the country does not fall into any category listed above. The crime rate can be reduced by two methods: first, find reasons for criminal behavior and then take actions to lower the crime rate according to these reasons or second, strict the punishment so individuals that considered committing crime would think twice before taking some prohibited by the law actions. The effectiveness of tougher sentencing may cause a problem by the distortion created by incarceration and unclear results both at the individual and aggregate level.
According to the public, the present sentences are not substantial enough. They are out of proportion to the seriousness of crime committed. Referring to the statistics, there is only a 2% chance that a person who committed a robbery will be sentence to prison. These numbers make people really think if we need stricter sentencing. Some may argue that it is only a robbery, however, if a person can let himself or herself commit a robbery what can stop him/her of committing the murder. Stricter sentencing, together with minimum sentences for particular felonies and automatic incarceration for persistent lawbreakers, instead of bigger police expenditure, has become the latest reaction to the apparent increase in crime.

It is a well-known hypothesis that criminal actions are directly related with possible outcome of the unwanted situation (being caught). To be simple, if the criminal certainly knows that he/she will be responsible for offence and this responsibility will be of high strictness the chances of committing the offence will be much lower. Some countries, especially Asian, have a death penalty for a number of crimes. For example, if someone caught with drugs, no matter if using them, selling, or just having in the pocket he/she will be sentenced to death. Most likely that this way the authorities just scare the potential lawbreakers and not change the psychology, however, this method works positively on reducing the crime rate. As I mentioned before there are basically two sets of strategies to stimulate the potential lawbreaker: encouraging that consists of alternatives to crime that a government can offer to a potential offender or discouraging such as strong punishment. If we view criminals as the ones that want to maximize the efficacy at the lowest risk, we would expect them to compare actual utility from the illegal activity to the utility of the perfectly legal action. In case of applying some knowledge from economics we can easily draw the graph of supply and demand; at the point where two lines intersect would be the market equilibrium for criminal activity. To make it completely understandable, the higher the risk to be jailed the lower criminal activity would be. Consequently, incarceration would reduce crime by applying the preventive effect and declining the number of offenders and this effect basically will create the utility of alternative. The result of this idea is vitally dependent on the suppositions that a person makes and thus the effect will depend on person’s attitude towards risk, length of imprisonment, and other results that will the unfavorable situation for a criminal will lead to.

Crime is actually viewed from the economic prospective more often than people think. Economic scholars instead of analyzing the economy write books analyzing the interrelation of economics and crime. One of them was Becker who made the model in long 1968 which supposed that people act rationally in response to the possible effect of their action . Simply speaking, people are most likely to commit the crime if the wanted benefit is greater than its cost. It is just like business: if the possible income is greater than the costs then it makes sense to start this business. We should also take into account the possibility of failure which would be the nominal risk for the offender this case. As in economics we would consider the effects of possible failure on the entrepreneur in this case the strictness of punishment should be taken to account. If we take all these things and put them together in one equation like Becker did, we would attain that expected utility of the crime is directly dependent on probability of capture, the monetary value taken out from crime, and the results if punished. Becker came to a conclusion that negative results of punishment reflect the severity of punishment will prevent crime. Although, Becker did not completely explain the possible outcome of the situation when the fear of punishment stops to be the issue for the criminal. In other words, is there a critical point of dread of the punishment for a potential offender?Becker concluded that if a person prefers to take risk then one percent in the probability of punishment will have greater deterrent effect than a one percent increase in the severity of punishment and completely the opposite would be true if a person is not willing to take great risk. A great influence would also have the percentage of time that a person would spend on illegal activities compared to the percentage of legal activities. A person that spends most of his/her time on something that is illegal may not be that affected by stricter punishment than a person that spends most of his/her time on legal things. The term “practical certainty” that was introduced almost twenty years ago states that people avoid difficulties of the decision making by taking things for granted. Instead of difficult economic calculations that Backer used, people will simply evaluate net income from the crime and alternative utilization of this time. This would have a need of the greatest enlargement of the possibility and strictness of sentence to result the decreasing trend in the crime rate.

Another great scholar of this whole issue is Ehrlich. His work is based on the market model of crime. Ehrlich disputes that it is not possible to evaluate the influence of imprisonment taking to account only individual cases. Incarceration could prevent the following crimes of the same offender. For instance, if one committed a crime and was jailed for it he/she will not be able to commit another crime in the reason of being in prison at the moment. Although, the preventive effect of jails does not mean anything to recidivists, people that do illegal things all their lives. They do not need the alternatives from crime, crime is the best alternative for them, and they do not really care about how high the risk is and how strict the punishment is.

Most states have initiated tougher sentencing for recidivists and for crimes that have a link to the charge of additional criminal acts. Since 1990, the number of people in custody has risen more than 577,100, or 1,708 inmates per week. By the 1998, more than 1.7 million people were confined in state, federal, and local correctional facilities. As the repeat criminals were taken off the streets, the U.S. actually achieved a decline in the crime rate. In response to crime, possible sufferers from the crime choose much higher levels to protect themselves, by doing this they increase the preventive effect and consequently increase the costs for the crime that criminals have to deal with. Boost in the costs for crime lowers the possible net gains that can be derived from the crime. In any case, it is not in favor of the public if the stricter sentencing is used because citizens pay for prisons from their taxes. If we consider the other option – to increase the means of self protection – it will negatively balance on people’s budget, since this one is not a very desirable expense for a regular citizen. If we refer to the statistics it is pretty easy to find out that during the last two decades of the twentieth century, expenditures for state and local prisons in the United States increased over 600%. For example, in Wisconsin during the past 13 years, the budget for the correction facilities have grown from $556 million in the 1992-93 to nearly $2 billion in the budget adopted for 2004-05-an increase of 257%. Since 1990, Wisconsin’s inmate population has more than tripled. Luckily, we have a number of alternatives to tougher sentencing. The probable ones would be the rehabilitation programs or increase in the employment rate. As I mentioned in the beginning of my paper the low level of economics negatively influences the crime rate. Consequently, a high unemployment rate has a bad impact on overall crime. Thus, to achieve a lower crime rate not only we have to frighten the potential offenders by strict punishments but also create new working places and get people to work. However, there is not a hundred percent guarantee that the greatest improvement in unemployment will result the disappearance in crime. For example, in the former Soviet Union was practiced planned economy where the working spot was created for everyone, however, the actual crime rate was not the lowest one. To summarize everything said above, the efficiency of tougher sentencing depends on individuals’ contribution and attitudes, especially the attitudes towards risk. It also depends on the willingness of people to take risk and be responsible for outcomes. It is obvious that imprisonment of offenders decrease the possibility of crimes that could have been happened if these offenders were free. The studies show that increasing the apprehension rate of possible offenders may have significant preventative effects that will sufficiently reduce the crime.