Monday, February 09, 2009

Beats Me

Very few crimes are totally alien to me.

For example, I enjoy alcohol and so I can to some extent understand the attraction of drinking to excess and taking more intensely intoxicating drugs.

I'm also imperfect (a.k.a "human"), and so I suffer to some extent from anger, greed and impatience; and so I can to some extent put myself in the shoes of people who have committed assault, fraud and speeding.

All these activities are illegal and I don't condone them - I'm just saying that I can understand why people commit these crimes. I can see the attraction. I can see how it can happen.

However, I'm nowhere when it comes to understanding Domestic Violence.

I can understand some people love their partners and stay together. I can understand some people hate their partners and leave. What has me totally foxed is why some stick around to use their partner as a mental and physical punch bag, alternating assaults with expressions of regret and declarations of love.

I watched "Violent Partners: Tonight" on ITV1 to see if I could get an insight.

No chance. There was a simple message that Judges are too lenient and that there was a one-step catch-all solution to the problem.

Make sentences harsher.

For starters, how much harsher ? Double ? Triple ? Ten Years ? Life ? Castration (for male offenders anyway)? They seemed to leave this as an exercise for the viewer.

And anyway, since when did harsher sentences prevent crime ?

For serious crime, please note that the murder rate was higher when the death penalty was a possibility. Also, do you think a criminal with a gun would pull the trigger if the maximum sentence was ten years, but would think again if it was twenty years ?

For less serious crime, the penalty for using a phone while driving was increased a while ago - has it resulted in a reduction in this behaviour ? No, not really. Penalties for Cannabis possession were increased last month and I doubt that a single committed stoner would be influenced to change their herb-of-choice. Incidentally, hands up anyone who think that increasing penalties for being an idiot on a level-crossing (as suggested today) is likely to make any difference to the number of boneheads who fancy their chances against a speeding train.

Higher sentences don't reduce crime. The Americans have much harsher sentencing with more people in harsher jails for longer. They still have a much higher crime rate.

I will concede that there's more to sentencing than the reduction of crime. For example, there's punishment and protection of the public - and to some extent locking such people up for longer will certainly punish them and will definitely keep them away from the public for longer. The programme had some horrific examples where it would be hard to argue that the perpetrator was sufficiently punished or the public sufficiently protected.

However, the crucial point is that we need to stop domestic violence happening in the first place, and just doubling/tripling the custodial period isn't going to get that job done.

I suspect the first step is to understand why people do this - to understand what it is they get from doing it - to understand how it can happen.

Which is where we came in.

I'm nowhere when it comes to understanding Domestic Violence.


Ben said...

You assume that the main purpose of sentences is to stop crime happening. Of course it is not, if it were there are two simple methods (which I leave as an exercise).

People want to see bad actions punished, and dangerous people confined. Preventing *all* bad actions is not possible and any serious attempt to do it must necessarily require wholesale surveillance of the entire population, not just on the street but in our homes too.

Stan said...

Ben : I didn't actually say that. What I was railing against was the assumption in the TV programme that Punishment is the only thing that matters when it comes to sentencing. See Daily Mail editorials for another example of this kind of thinking.

If we double the sentences and we still have a problem - do we double them again and hope for the best?

I don't believe any complex problem has a simple solution - I think it's useful to keep this mind.

Ben said...

@Stan: We ought to give the punishment which the offender justly deserves. If that does not deter the offence so be it.

We cannot increase the punishment because it would be unjust* to give a greater punishment than the offender deserves. We must then accept that the offence will occur.

We may give a lesser punishment if it is in the interests of wider society, for example if a lesser punishment is an effective deterrent and also the offender is not a danger to the public, they can be paroled. But it is the rights of the public which determine this not the rights of the offender.

Unfortunately what happens at the moment is that *by law* serious offenders serve a lesser punishment than they deserve, motivated partly by a misplaced mercy and partly by a misplaced desire to save money.

As to your final comment. It is not the responsibility of the Courts, the Police, or anyone else to "solve" the problem of domestic violence. If a person prays the court for succour, give it justly. If for retribution, likewise. That is your role.

But save us please from people who want to solve our problems for us.

Anonymous said...

Do your HMCS Domestic Violence Training and then hopefully you will understand and be a more effective Magistrate.

Stan said...

Thanks, Anon: I'll definitely be pestering to get this training sooner rather than later.