Kiwi Polemicist

August 23, 2008

New Zealand should have restorative justice

This article is in the the NZ Herald today:

Lewd calls made to wrong number

A drunk man who made lewd suggestions during at least eight phone calls to a number he thought was his girlfriend’s had instead called a Gate Pa woman in her 70s.

Shane Williams, 44, pleaded guilty in Tauranga District Court to a charge of misusing a telephone and was fined $400 plus $130 court costs.

Although there is a comic aspect to this, it may well have been quite upsetting for the woman.

Why should the State profit from this man’s drunken behaviour while the woman gets nothing? The woman has already paid for the services of the court by paying taxes, and now that she has been wronged she will get nothing, while the State gets another $530. In effect the woman is paying for crime and the State is profiting from crime. It is wrong for the State to be paid twice while the woman gets nothing, so the entire $530 should go to the woman. It is not a crime against the State, it is a crime against the woman, so the offender should make restoration to the woman; that is restorative justice.

The trouble with fines is that we have lots of people who don’t pay up, and chasing unpaid fines is very expensive. If the man cannot stump up $530 cash (more if he’s wealthy; $530 isn’t punishment to a millionaire, it’s a flea bite), then the court bailiffs should seize from him property with a market value of $530. If he doesn’t have that much property the punishment should go to the next level.

Prison and Periodic Detention is expensive, and people on PD just break their tools so that they can’t work. Both are social occasions where criminals get to meet fellow criminals and form new alliances. Therefore I think that some public humiliation is in order for minor crimes, which means putting people in stocks – see picture below. The trouble is that many people treat criminals as heroes, so put the stocks in a part of town where people actually disapprove of crime, and put up a sign describing the crime. Verbal criticism by the public would be allowed, but nothing physical, and an official to keep the away the friends of the criminal might be needed. I would also give the victim the option of being there to put their side of the story to the public. If you’re worried about emotional harm to the criminal, just think of the emotional harm to the victim: there is an excessive focus on the rights of criminals these days*. Maricopa County successfully uses chain gangs today, which is a form of public humiliation, and much tougher than being put in the stocks.

New Zealand should have meaningful punishments for crime. Crime is harm of others, and criminals should have a taste of their own medicine: only then will they find out that what they dish out to others isn’t so sweet.

* it is a common fallacy that habitual criminals have a “fragile ego”, when in fact they have egos like boulders of granite. In other words, they consider themselves to be the most important thing in the universe. That is why they are habitual criminals, because they will do whatever satisfies the desires of their massive egos, irrespective of the harm to others. If you hear about someone having an “antisocial personality disorder” it just means that they have an ego like a boulder of granite, so they give the finger to the rest of society. These people may or may not be criminals, but criminals are antisocial by definition.

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