Studies on crime by sociologists and criminologists generally hypothesise that a person’s social and economic environment are major factors that influence someone’s predisposition to break the law. Statistics that show relatively higher crime rates in economically depressed areas are usually used to support this hypothesis. The typical recommendations of these studies are for additional police, judicial, prison, rehabilitative, and crime-preventative resources.
Crime consultants often claim that crime is a complex issue requiring more funds to perpetuate further studies that reach similar conclusions and offer similar recommendations. The main difference between the various crime reports appears to be the updated crime statistics. Studying crime has now become a multi-million dollar industry.
It should be noted that limited police and judicial resources during in the past did not necessarily result in relatively higher crime levels. Sir Roy Marshall’s identification of the crime restraining influences of moral values is an excellent observation that seems to elude modern crime consultants. Today, I will respond to Sir Roy’s recent public request for suggestions on this issue.
As a contextual background, it can be useful to categorise offences into those that are committed unknowingly and those that are committed knowingly. Each of these categories can result in damage to property, harm to one or more persons, or neither damage nor harm.
Breaking the law is ultimately a personal decision. However, persons who unknowingly break the law are unlikely to feel guilt, especially if committing the offence did not result in property damage or bodily harm. People can unknowingly break the law if the associated law was not properly publicised, or the person was simply not paying attention while committing the offence. Examples include placing one’s car registration card on the right side of the windshield rather than the left, or parking in a no parking zone that was indistinguishable since the road paint markings had completely worn away.
There are other offences that persons commit out of a perceived necessity and then seek to justify their action because of their situation. Examples of these offences include parking in an obvious no-parking zone, not paying taxes on time, and defaulting on loans. When people are in a poor emotional or psychological state, then they may not recognise possible options, which can include: debt refinancing, welfare assistance, or debt relief from the tax department.
The police can issue a warning to persons who unknowingly commit offences that do not result in property damage or bodily harm. However, if someone knowingly commits such offences, then they should be fined a known fixed amount. People should be allowed to waive their right to appear before a court and simply agree to pay the fine within 28 days. If the fine is not paid on time, or if the person challenges the police’s assertion that they broke the law, then they should retain their right to appear before a magistrate as an accused.
For those who unknowingly commit an offence that results in property damage or loss, then they should be fined an amount equal to the replacement cost of the property. If the damage must be assessed, then the assessment should be sent to the accused who should have the option of paying the amount, or appearing before a magistrate. If they committed such an offence knowingly, then a magistrate should determine the fine.
Persons who are unable to pay the fine within the specified period should be allowed to continue working but have their wages garnished. If they are unemployed, then they should be allowed to work off their fine by working in areas where the Government seems to have a lack of resources. These include activities like: repairing homes of the elderly, cleaning gullies, picking cotton, cutting sugar cane, sweeping the road, repairing potholes, cutting grass, cleaning the beach, painting public buildings, and cleaning wells. Being allowed to work is an effective rehabilitative measure.
Persons who knowingly or unknowingly commit an offence that results in bodily harm should also be allowed to continue working, but have their wages garnished by an amount and for a duration determined by a magistrate. If the person is a threat to society, then they should be incarcerated, and made to work supervised.
This suggested system could result in a win-win situation for the public, accused, police, magistrates and prison officials. However, the police would need to be authorised to fine persons.