Is this man now more or less likely to commit crime in the future?

Justice is being done! The heartless youths who have lately been decimating the moral values of this country are being meted out suitably punitive sentences. That’ll learn ’em. And, while we’re at it, it’ll act as a deterrent to any other ne’er-do-wells who might be considering stepping out of line. That’s how justice works, right? Discipline and punish, and before long they’ll all be straightening up and flying right.

Except that it doesn’t seem to quite work that way. Take this example: a woman who has refused to allow her son back into their home on the basis that, if she did, the whole family could be evicted.

It’s easy to condemn the man in question, although he claims to have been returning from a party when he was caught up in rioting. It’s nearly as easy to have a go at the mother ~ but what is she to do? She has eight other children to clothe and feed. It’s not a pretty situation for her to find herself in, and she’s sharp enough to realise that she has few other options if she doesn’t want to lose her home.

The whole situation, in our view, is a perfect example of the way in which simple-minded stamping down on disorder creates unintended consequences. Rather than spurring people to do the right thing, it creates fear amongst those who risk the possibility of being severely punished, and do whatever they must to avoid the worst of the situation.

In other words, a purely negative disciplinary approach doesn’t instill values. It erodes them, by placing people in scenarios where they’re choosing what they least want to lose, thereby having precisely the opposite effect to the one intended.

Which brings us to the question at the top of this post. Is a young man who has been locked out of his own home for his alleged participation in riots going to think: “wow, I really need to shape up here?” Or, is he more likely to become further alienated and marginalised, drifting more and more surely towards a life lived outside the law?

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