Dubayoo wrote:...so I was thinking that the idea of sentencing people for a number of years in prison is rather arbitrary. There's no real point to why prisoners serve x number of years for committing a crime.
Perhaps society needs to come up with another way of judging this in a way that actually matches the crime that's committed. Maybe prisoners should have to perform community service until the deed is paid off. Maybe they should have to express themselves in a way that shows thorough evaluation of why what they did is wrong.
I say this especially because it would encourage us to address why crimes are committed. Many people are provoked into committing crimes due to the structure of their circumstances, or because of scenarios that aren't kept track of. If we consider the actions needed to adjust someone's mental state or to compensate a victim, then we have to consider what the mental state or compensation is in the first place.
In turn, we can discover that indeed, many criminals do not deserve the sentences that we give them. On the other hand, we can also realize that some criminals deserve worse sentences than what we thought they deserved because they were actually impacting people more deeply than we thought they were. We could also end up sentencing people for minor infringements like duress, intimidation, harassment, and provocation which are typically used as criminal defenses instead of recognized as crimes.
Problem is, it is not clear WHY we put people in prison, and there may be different reasons or objectives in different cases. We can generally regard prison sentences as attempts to achieve one or more of the following goals:
1. punishment, to make the guilty suffer for their crimes as we believe they should,
2. deterrence or example, to discourage others from committing crimes,
3. a substitute for revenge, to satisfy the anger of victims or their families,
4. rehabilitation, to reduce future criminality by the inmate,
5. prevention, to remove the inmate's opportunity to commit additional crimes.
The last is the only one that makes much sense to me. The purpose of the criminal justice system is to reduce crime, but prison doesn't seem to do that very effectively. It is not an effective deterrent for most crimes, and its record in rehabilitation is not encouraging. Where prison is very unpleasant to satisfy the first three objectives, as in the USA, recidivism rates are high. Countries with more of a focus on rehabilitation, where prison is more like a budget hotel, do somewhat better; but it is expensive.
As a result, I think prison terms should reflect social goals, of which prevention seems the most defensible and also the most achievable through incarceration. But in a country like the USA, where a sixth goal -- corporate extraction of slave labor from inmates -- seems to be the most important, there might not be much chance of a more rational approach to sentencing.