In the previous part of this mini-series I examined the role of jail in criminal sentencing. I examined how jail is being used, as opposed to how it could be used in conjunction with other types of sentencing. In this part I examine how it could work alongside a regime of targetted sentences that are specific to the nature of the offence.
Before I do though, it is worth noting that the New Zealand court systems sentencing regime seems to be quite similar to the British, American, Australian and Canadian systems in terms of its usage of imprisonment. Whilst this certainly has its uses, it is not a perfect fit and in some cases may actually do more harm than good. The cases I have mind are ones involving the abuse of services and property, and in particular those provided by the State. The idea of targetted sentencing is not new, nor to me or as an actual concept. And for long as traditional methods of sentencing have failed to address the type of offending, there has been a case punishments that fit the crime – and deter the offender from committing it again.
One example I like is passport fraud, the deliberate misuse of a passport for criminal gain. Aside from being a strike at the State, it is also a strike at the people of that nation. As one does not necessarily need to be a full citizen to hold a passport, some people who are not fully sworn to the issuing country and who might not believe in the principles of that country might see it as a loophole to be exploited for improper use. So, therefore if one deliberately misuses a passport, I believe a targetted sentence and not a jail sentence unless other characteristics come into play, should be used. Since the State will want to deter the offender, an ideal sentence might be to:
- Revoke the passport for a set period, during which time the offender is unable to hold a passport
- Be issued a strike warning, whereby if it happens again the passport is cancelled for say 20 years – this is the deterrence; a repeat offender might be permanently denied a passport
- The punishment could be a fine or reparations to cover the financial cost of the offending
A similar, progressively heavier sentencing regime could also work for motorists. An idea of mine some time ago was to overhaul the demerit system, and make it a 1000 point system, but with some changes:
- Introduce residual points that are added to every time an offence gets committed – if one gets charged with manslaughter and is convicted, they might get 800 demerit points, of which 500 are permanently on your record, meaning another manslaughter conviction fills up ones quota
- When 1,000 residual points are reached, the offender has to surrender their driver license for at least 25 years – this is the deterrence, the prospect of not being able to hold a driver license for a lengthy period of time
- Because these offences often involve the life/body of another human being jail time might be best, but depending on the wishes of the victim, hefty reparation might be an option as well
But the one I like the most is for corporate fraud. In this case it involves large scale misuse of funds entrusted to individuals and/or a financial institution. Since a lot of the more recent cases have involved people getting ridiculously wealthy out of ill gotten gains, it seems only appropriate that the targetted sentencing deals with those ill gotten gains – I’m talking the private jets, the mansions, luxury yachts, flash cars and so forth that were obtained using money that did not belong to the company(ies)/individual(‘s). I suggest:
- A register that all licensed brokers of financial advise need to be on be set up, with a code of conduct that lays down the grounds for disciplinary action from minor offences that might result in a disciplinary hearing but no loss of job, through to criminal proceedings
- A revamp of existing laws, which I believe grossly underestimate the gravity of corporate offending – with new punishments of up to say $2 million fines for individuals and/or up to 50 years jail for high end offenders with progressively longer minimum sentences
- The deterrence would be public striking from the register (in newspapers) with no chance of reapplying
Of course with any criminal sentencing regime, there is the 5% who consider it their mission in life to break the law. They have no thought or care for the victims, the financial or societal cost of their offending. It is their way of life. These would include rapists, murderers, those committing home invasions and so forth. For this type of offender, removal from society, through jail is the only solution.