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TFS (Part 3) - Police, Courts & Prisons

February 18, 2009 - 12:00am
Nick Coons by Nick Coons


The purpose of justice is not to punish criminals, but to restitute victims and make them whole again (if possible) while at the same time providing a deterrent to crime in the first place. Following this principle, victimless crimes no longer fall under the veil of the criminal justice system. To rightfully call something a crime requires a victim. This means that acts such as robbery, assault, and murder are crimes, but drug possession, prostitution, and gambling are not because no one's rights have been violated.

Even in cases where victims exist, our current system is inadequate.  Individuals are victimized once by criminals, and then again by the state to pay for the incarceration of the criminal.  In most cases, criminals are not required to pay restitution to their victims.  Criminals continue to commit crimes because they find it profitable, even taking their short prison sentences into account.  A truly just system is funded by those that necessitate its existence, the criminals themselves.

Imagine this scenario.  A burglar breaks into your home damaging your front door, steals your laptop worth $1,200, and flees.  You call the police, who will take your statement, but generally have no motivation for catching the criminal, even if they have identified him, though they'll issue a warrant and arrest him if they happen to encounter him elsewhere.

Now, imagine this same scenario under a criminal justice system funded by criminals.  That is to say that criminals pick up all of the costs involved with their capture, conviction, and incarceration.  Here's how it might work.  You call the police and report to them that your $1,200 laptop was stolen and it's going to cost $200 to repair your front door.  The police must capture the criminal in order to be paid, so they are highly motivated.  Upon capture, the police force totals up their expenses for the pursuit, which comes to $2,000 in our example.  The next process is for the suspect to be tried in a court.  The court is also paid for by the criminal upon his conviction.  But just as it is today, convictions are handed down by juries, not by judges.  So while the court may favor a conviction, it won't have the ability to unfairly lean the verdict in that direction.  The jury hands down a conviction, and the court proceedings cost $800.

The convicted criminal now owes a debt of $4,200 ($1,400 to the victim, $2,000 to the police, and $800 to the court).  He is given the option to pay off the debt in full, or work it off in a work prison.  It should be noted that those who steal generally don't have $4,200 lying around.  However, the option is on the table, and having to pay $4,200 for a $1,200 gain (the laptop that he stole) is very unprofitable.  In most cases, someone in this situation will need to work off the debt, so he'll be sentenced to a work prison where he'll be put to productive work earning his living.  Instead of being sentenced to prison for an arbitrary length of time, he'll be released when he's worked off his debt.  The harder he chooses to work, the earlier he is released.

But staying in a prison costs money (food, clothing, and shelter), so a portion of his daily earnings will go toward those costs.  Let's estimate his cost of living at $20/day, and let's say that he works such that he's able to make $80/day.  He has earned a net profit of $60/day, which will go toward paying off the $4,200.  At that rate, he'll be released in 70 days.  If he wants to work harder and earn more, he can leave sooner.

Without government intervention, one might think that such a system is prone to corruption.  That is, how can the fair treatment of suspects and convicted criminals be guaranteed?  There are quite a few natural checks in place in this market system.  For instance, police will want to make certain that the person they arrest is guilty so as not to waste their resources on pursuing innocent people which will have no obligation to pay them back.  This similar check exists for courts, where they'll want to not waste time hearing cases where they believe a conviction isn't possible, preventing people from being arrested and tried willy-nilly.  And upon conviction, criminals may have the option of choosing the work prisons in which they will work off their debt.  Those that mistreat inmates will not receive new "customers" as inmates will avoid them, and they'll go out of business.  Like any other business in the market, they'll need to balance their costs with the quality of their service.

There are certain instances where such a system might not be ideal.  Even in cases of assault a dollar amount can normally be calculated for proper restitution (hospital bills, time off work, pain and suffering, etc).  What I'm referring to is murder.  No amount of time spent in a work prison is going to bring someone back to life (it should be noted that our current system is no more adequate in this area).  Those demanding restitution could be the victim's family members, and the restitution they seek may be the criminal's life.

Most crimes exist today for one reason; because they are profitable.  When you remove the profit motive from any action, it tends to decrease significantly.  Implementing a criminal justice system as described here will not only decrease the profitability of crime and therefore crime itself, but it will put the cost of prosecuting crime on criminals instead of their victims.

Related Content:

Do Rich/Wealthy People Deserve Tax Breaks? - Nick Coons
TFS (Part 2) - Public Goods - Nick Coons
TFS (Part 1) - Aggression: The Unnecessary Evil - Nick Coons

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