Does harsher sentencing result in less crime?


Fact Box

  • Pew Research Center analysis indicated that in 2019 the most common US crime was larceny/theft, while the most infrequent crime was murder/non-negligent manslaughter. 
  • The ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, composed of 282 rules, “established standards for commercial interactions and set fines and punishments to meet the requirements of justice.” It also incorporated the doctrine of “lex talionis” or eye-for-an-eye punishment, as well established different levels of justice for its “three classes of Babylonian society—the propertied class, freedmen and slaves.” 
  • According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 40.9% of all violent crimes in the US are reported to the authorities. 
  • Britannica defines criminology as the “scientific study of the nonlegal aspects of crime and delinquency, including its causes, correction, and prevention, from the viewpoints of such diverse disciplines as anthropology, biology, psychology and psychiatry, economics, sociology, and statistics.”

Aaron (No)

According to research done by the National Institute for Justice, the crime rate seemingly diminishes when there is simply the threat of a criminal being caught as opposed to a criminal being subjected to harsher punishment. One successful anti-crime tactic that reinforces this is the mass presence of police vehicles in more dangerous neighborhoods--making criminals aware of the threat of getting apprehended lurking around the corner. 

The death penalty is one of the most severe forms of criminal punishment in America. Yet National Institute for Justice analysis concludes that there is no proof that the death penalty actually deters criminals. Currently, there are nearly 2,000 prisoners on death row. And over the last 40 years, there has been a 500% increase in the incarcerated population. Although the increase is due to 'changes in sentencing law and policy, not changes in crime rates,' the fact remains that crime has not decreased at all--even under threat of death.  

People often fall into the system because it is thought that jail can offer some protection from more serious trouble. However, once incarcerated, it becomes increasingly more challenging to stay free. Studies done on felons from Michigan show that incarceration makes criminals more likely to be arrested and convicted of additional crimes. Almost five million people are jailed each year, and of that 5 million, 1 in 4 are jailed multiple times. Harsher punishment doesn't lead to reduced crime, but it does lead to a more significant rate of imprisonment, repeat offenders, and money spent on enforcing these punishments. 

Sheryll (Yes)

Harsher sentencing undoubtedly results in less crime because stringent punishments work as an effective deterrent for most individuals. If a community of people is aware that committing a particular crime may land them in prison, the majority of adults will instinctively choose to avoid that behavior. This is because the mere threat of losing one’s liberty is not something most people would want to risk. And while some experts do make the compelling argument that harsher punishments would not deter all forms of crime, the fact remains that it prevents some.

Psychologists also find that many individuals decide whether or not they will commit a crime depending upon the severity of its punishment. They may choose to turn to crime if the penalty is not very high or if their chances of getting caught are very low. And for these types of criminals, it is without question that a harsher sentence would dissuade them from breaking the law. 

One can also argue that many individuals who turn to a life of crime are inherently violent people and are not wired to live civilized, law-abiding lives. No matter how much we may want to rely on alternatives to harsh punishments, such as rehabilitation programs or counseling, spending large amounts of money to fund such treatments may prove to be a futile endeavor. Therefore, imposing harsher sentences is necessary for such convicts to ensure their communities are protected.

It’s important to note that extreme criminals will commit crimes regardless of the harsh consequences, but the focus should be on strong punishments and their deterrent effect on the rest of potential criminals.

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