Punishment is not the solution

Every election time, you’ll hear some obdurate, ideological politicians touting their law and order philosophy. They insist on offering the medicine of tough punishment as the cure of crime, despite the glaring conclusions of study after study showing tough punishment does not deter crime; it only increases the number of prisoners, prisons and the costs on taxpayers.

The reason for this repeated conclusion is simple: desires cannot be destroyed by denial.

Every parent knows that the surest way to break a fragile ornament is to tell a kid not to touch it. The most popular book is the one that is banned by authorities. And the biggest reason that marijuana is a problem for the police is that it is not decriminalized.

In a word, every “thou shalt not” works as “thou shalt.” Negation just doesn’t work. If anything, it instigates and reinforces bad behaviours.

It’s ironic that the Christian church has never learned its first lesson of history: Adam sinned because he tasted the fruit. Why did he do that? The fruit was forbidden! Negation didn’t work even then, before sin ever existed. How then could it possibly work today as we are all sinners?

It’s always easy to blame and punish. However, to solve the problem of crime and bad behaviour, we need to lead people to good behaviour. This requires substitution, replacement and enlightenment.

Those who commit crimes get locked up in jails not because they did not know the consequences of their actions, but because they do not see any better alternatives. We have to show them that there are alternatives, other choices and other ways of problem solving.

On the other hand, those who do not commit crimes stay out of trouble not because they are primarily afraid of the punishment, but because they “know better” and do not want to commit wrong. They make informed decisions, considering many options in any given situation, because of their greater awareness. This awareness comes from many sources, including education, role models and a nurturing environment.

Therefore, it would seem logical that the solution to crime is not tougher punishment, but the elimination of causes and the provision of better alternatives. In other words, use the attraction of the good, not the deterrent of the bad. Good behaviour does not come from negation of bad behaviour. Good behaviour is, quite literally, the result of fostering good behaviour.