Sunday, 21 August 2011

Reasonable Punishment for Looters

As a teacher of pre-adolescents I have to dole out consequences for misbehaviour on consistent basis. In order for the offender to learn any sort of lesson to keep them repeating the misbehaviour, the 'punishment' must suit the 'crime'. In other words if a student is repeat gum chewer, the consequence would be to scrape off all the gum under the desks in the school during their free time, not give them a week of detention. It's all just common sense really.

In these weeks following the riots I've read about some of the sentences being handed to the convicted offenders and been appalled, to put it mildly, at how disproportionate and arbitrary the punishments seem to be in relation to the crimes that didn't involve physical violence. Then when thinking about the court and jail costs borne by the tax payers, these heavy-handed punishments seem even more ludicrous.

Oh and let's not forget the petition signed by over 100,000 people to take away benefits from anyone convicted of looting, as if that will really solve the issues at the root of the problem. Let's take a population of young people who have little opportunities, little to do and even less hope and who also have a wealth of disaffected anger and take away what little they do have. That will solve everything if those who have almost nothing are released from their prison terms to come back into society with even less.

What I haven't yet heard suggested is that the convicted looters are made to work to pay for the damage they caused or stole. This is just logical and reasonable to me. First, many of the youth who were involved in the looting have little in the ways of a skill set and not much available for them to do that's beneficial or interesting. So, making them work off the cost of the damage they have done would provide them with both a usable skill set and something useful. Plus, it suits the crime. You break it; you fix it. You cause damage; you pay for it. If you don't fulfil the guidelines and work mandated by the courts, then you go to jail and serve your sentence.

Perhaps this consequence may seem a little too simple, but that's the beauty of it. Surely if the courts have enough evidence to convict people for looting, then they have enough evidence to calculate how much damage each individual did, so the guilty looters could be put to work in the communities where they caused the damage instead of being thrown into overcrowded prison cells. Yes, tensions might be high between the victims of the rioting and the looters who will have to work off their debts at first. However, the end result will be that the looters will truly understand the extent of their damage, receive some training and skills and quite possibly feel more connected to their communities. And, all of this is much preferable than the type of humans that would eventually emerge from the prisons after being locked up for years for vandalism and theft.

I've not read a single word about a program where looters are being made to work off the damage they caused. Surely, I'm not the only person who has had this idea. There must be something somewhere!

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