He was perhaps 19 or 20 years old. His youthful wrinkle-free face betrayed an attempt to look hardened and contemptuous. A police officer proudly standing beside him told me how he apprehended the young man carrying a stereo out the broken back door of a residence.
I was new to the detective office and somewhat green in the-day-to-day mysteries of interviewing techniques. The specialty field of detective carried with it a great deal of charisma, mystique and status and newbies were expected to appreciate this. Although I had many years on the force, detective methodologies were closely guarded by those in the know and only the eager were allowed a glimpse.
So here I was in my brand new suit, my partner gone… somewhere, and staring at a uniform that thought I should know what I was doing. The young thief looked around furtively wondering what was going to happen next. The officer told me the two accomplices running away drew his attention to the rear of the house, where he captured the slowest and most heavily loaded culprit.
With no other direction I felt the best tactic was the direct approach.
“Who were the other guys who left you holding the bag?”
“I ain’t no rat and you ain’t gettin nothin out ah me, pig. Beat me all you want, I don’t care.”
I asked the young man if he was aware of what he had gotten himself into. He said he knew enough to know he had a right to a phone call and a lawyer. I shoved a phone in his direction and promised to get him a list of lawyer’s numbers but added that in the mean time, I wanted him to read something. I pulled out the Criminal Code and pointed to the section on breaking and entering. I’ll be back in a minute, I said, but thought you might be interested in reading about the penalties for your offence.
His face was pale and eyes very round when I returned with the lawyer phone list. “Life in prison… you gotta be kiddin me… life in prison for stealing a stereo?”
“Hey, a man’s home is his castle,” I replied. “You just broke into someone’s castle and breached their feelings of maintaining a safe homelife. How do you think the law makers should look at this kind of stuff?”
The ensuing negotiations included a frank discussion about other burgled houses and the names of his two accomplices, punctuated by resolutions of how he wasn’t going to take the fall just because they could run faster than he could.
A sense of deterrence and even revenge is missing from today’s judicial system. We have become so wrapped up in rehabilitation that deterrence is no longer viewed as an effective principle. The word “punishment” elicits horror but both deterrence and punishment, also described as societal revenge, loom as large factors that work in favour of rehabilitation and should not be forgotten.
Revenge is well known and understood in the criminal realm. It is the self imposed fear of “do unto me and I will do more back unto thee” which keeps many people more civil than they would otherwise be.
I’m not saying deterrence and revenge is completely missing in Canadian society. The problem is it has been increasingly foisted on the shoulders of police so the judicial system can look squeaky clean by dealing solely in rehabilitation. It doesn’t have to sully its hands with such things if police are willing to handle the dirty work at the street level.
This attitude is not limited to the judiciary but also reflected in such places as mental health and welfare issues. Police extra judicial exertions keep the lid on so they can turn a blind eye to cause and effect.
Lawmakers take note. I have six points which could fix much of the problems with a meek judiciary:
- Mandatory consecutive sentencing. (exceptions must be argued by defence).
- Reinstate capital punishment and the lash. Even if never utilized, they would show the criminal there is a societal repugnance for certain offences and they will feel oh so lucky when the sentence is commuted to life.
- No right to a jury trial and no parole eligibility for terrorists or organized crime figures. They have placed themselves outside the realm of societal peers and must be judged by the state alone.
- Give deterrence an equal or higher priority than rehabilitation. The former should be the driving force toward the latter.
- Communities of no escape in northern territories (the true north strong and not-so-free), with natural life sentences for recidivist criminals. Minimal guards would be required as remote locations would make most escapes simple recovery operations. Repeated escape attempts would be highly unlikely.
- Permit victims to be the parole board in some cases. Perpetrators must curry their favour (or that of their families) to be released.
Let’s bring back penalties that crooks will clearly understand and at least pause to consider.