Crime and Punishment

There was an excellent article in The Daily Telegraph today by Philip Johnston protesting against the attempts to keep more criminals out of prisons by getting them to say they were sorry and won’t do it again (!!) and/or would be given community sentences or would take up training for a worthwhile job. As Johnson points out, the idea of providing training would only work for the few who really wanted to put crime behind them and become responsible citizens.
B.F. Skinner, an American psychotherapist, worked from the premisses that the best way for people to change was for them to want to change and when people behave badly they should not be rewarded. If this happens they are merely encouraged to repeat the bad behaviour. So the answer must be to punish instead. This was always the way up to the advent of Freud and the growth of many different ways of practising psychotherapy.
Johnson points out the foolish methods now being used. Any idiot knows that ‘saying sorry’ never works.
He tells the story of a violent offender released from prison who was sent to be examined on an “Anger Management Course” which he did not finish. He was classified as “of medium risk” and released; after which he went straight on to murder two young men.
Psychotherapy has done some very good work and some that is not so good. The facts are that no-one understands crime. We still know so little about what characteristics are inherited and which are learned. Studies of non-human animals have shown that they very rarely kill another of their own kind just for the sake of it. The more civilisation and populations grow, the more crimes grow and the more difficult they are to deal with.
Although most of us, who have worked to help people to solve their problems, accept the idea of the conscious and unconscious minds – a subject that has always been recognised and reproduced in all the great literature – that our unconscious mind is hidden from us and carries the negative aspects we all have which counterbalance our conscious and more positive side. But crime is a different matter. The people who do it know that is what they want to do. What neither they nor anyone else knows is the nature of the reason why.
I cannot help being concerned that we still need to design some kind of punishment that will be a big enough deterrent to make criminal behaviour unattractive. Why does it cost £30,000 a year to keep someone in prison? Perhaps they are too comfortable there. No-one gives answers to such questions. The Victorians did.