Libertarian Alliance: Fixing the Criminal Justice System

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Sean Gabb, Director of the Libertarian Alliance, on LBC with Andrew Pierce of The Daily Mail, on Tuesday the 2nd August 2011. They discussed whether criminals are being sent to prison for long enough.

Sean says yes and no for these reasons:

  1. Many people are being sent to prison, or threatened with prison for crimes that should not exist and that often did not exist until recently. For example, there should be no laws against the sale and possession of recreational drugs where only adults are concerned. It is wrong to make a crime of doing with yourself as you please. Again, it was scandalous that Nick Griffin of the BNP risked seven years in prison for uttering words about Islam that would once have gone utterly unremarked.
  2. At the same time, many people who are convicted of serious crimes are often let out of prison after derisory sentences, or even before these sentences have been fully served. in prison, they are given comforts or even luxuries that people outside often struggle to buy.

A libertarian response to the perceived crisis of criminal justice is to stop punishing people for non-crimes, and to make sure that those who do commit crimes are not allowed to escape after little more than a slap on the wrist. This may not mean longer prison sentences or stricter conditions in prison. It may mean moving the whole system away from punishment and deterrence, and toward some system of restitution to victims. Thieves should be made to restore what they have stolen, or its value. Violent criminals should be made to compensate their victims in the same manner as in the civil courts. Those who cannot afford to pay damages should be set to forced labour until they have earned enough.

There are obvious problems with a system based on restitution. What about rich criminals, who enjoy hurting people and are willing to pay for their tastes? What about the companies running the forced labour gangs? They would become another corrupt special interest in a country already tending towards a plutocratic police state. But these are problems to be discussed and settled. They do not compare with the existing fact that our criminal justice system does not work, and cannot be made to work.

19 responses to “Libertarian Alliance: Fixing the Criminal Justice System

  1. “… set to forced labour” == slavery
    Conditions within UK prisons are quite bad enough already.


  2. Non-violent (thieves etc) get a choice between not working–in which case they will be housed for the duration of their sentence in conditions that would make old Newgate gaol look good OR working to repay what they have stolen. With this latter option their sentence only lasts until they have repaid what their stole plus modest reparation to the victim plus very modest and strictly controlled legal fees. This would prevent the law dogs trying to cash in. The prisons will not be financed by the prisoners nor would they be run on corporate socialist lines (as in the USA slave system where political scum and corporate crooks profit from work that criminals are forced to do). Non-profit charities might be a good way of doing it.
    Violent crims to be punished by violent means. Beat someone and get a beating. Stab someone and be stabbed. They would be medically tyreated

  3. (Coments is playing up)

    The violent would be med treated after their punishment but receive no pain control. The punishment could be dealt out by machine to prevent any sadistic freaks from being employed.

  4. The problem is this; there is no algorithmic means to derive a correct punishment from a particular crime or insult. The result is that whatever punishments are inflicted, some will consider them too lax, and some will consider them too harsh. In general, it is the Hang Em And Flog Ems who make the most noise.

    Although harsh punishments have some disincentive effect, there are two central problems; the first is that most criminals act on the presumption that they can avoid capture. The second is that disincentivisation on a significant level would require such harsh punishments that we would descend into barbarity that would make Islamic punishments (widely criticised for that barbarity in the West) look bleeding heart liberal.

    A market analysis is useful. It is not wet and soppy to investigate “the causes of crime” in the hope of reducing its incidence. There are however numerous interrelated factors. Cultural values play a large part. So do economic incentives. It is a simple truth that boys from Eton do not go mugging and burgling houses; we may decide that they are genetically morally superior, but of course the answer is that they have no financial incentive to do so, and every incentive not to do so due to the risk of general life ruin. The return from a burlary or a mugging is simply too low to interest such a person. The higher rewards from a financial fraud however may well lead them to crime, and the chance of perpetrating an unpunished rape on a Hooray Henrietta may well cross the incentivisation barrier.

    One factor which has often niggled at me though is this; I have lived most of my life among the lower orders, being in fact one myself. I have never been criminal, because I have a terror of prison and, perhaps, a sense of moral virtue and empathy for potential victims. But I have engaged socially with such people, and have been struck that they were frequently, in engaging in unlawful acts, taking quite considerable risks for quite slight rewards. Many of them were quite poorly educated, but not necessarily low in intelligence. One tentative hypothesis I have come to, which I appreciate will recieve loud guffaws, but I will say so anyway, is this; that the primary incentive for some of these petty criminals was an almost libertarian desire to live “outside the system”.

    I will continue boring you in the next comment box, because this new style seems to play up a bit when one is indulging in the generation of War And Peace length waffling.

  5. (contd)

    That is to say, that they were living lives of clear financial disadvantage and risks (whcih I myself would not consider acceptable) because it made them feel in some way “more free”. Now of course from a moral perspective, this is not a justification, and I am not excusing these larcenous scrotes. But it may perhaps provide us with a strategy for crime reduction in some way.

    For persons of the lower orders, options in life are limited. Working, to be honest, usually means committing oneself to a miserable petty tyranny with no real hope of significant personal success, suffering draconian rules, the time clock, getting shouted at a lot, and so on. And the rewards from such work are not great. The incentive to opt out by adopting a criminal lifestyle- in which one can set one’s own “working hours” and not wear a humiliating crimplene uniform- is thus considerable.

    Under a work ethic ideology we can provide little advice other than “get a job”. People are told that it is their duty to put up with a miserable, restricted lifestyle, as a moral good. It is obvious to see that many will resent that, and some will opt out of “society” by joining the criminal class and lumpenproleteriat.

    It might then well be a selling point for libertarianism to emphasise that in a true free market, working options will be considerably more varied. Not only will there be more “jobs”, and thus greater competition for workers between employers will force them to offer better working conditions that less resemble a prison mailbag sewing room, there will be far more opportunity for the sole trader, the buyer and seller of this and that, the return of the class of costermongers and petty capitalists deliberately wiped out by statists a century ago. By allowing the classes which tend towards criminality to live in a more subjectively free way within a legitimate free market, we may well see the incentives towards criminal behaviour fall quite considerably.

    Building more prisons and an endless stream of Criminal Justice Acts does not seem to have much effect. Perhaps it is time to let the poor be libertarians again.

  6. I am stunned. I have to suggest that Ian may have hit the Nail On The Head.

    But I do have to proffer my usual nostrum one more time: The British State (in particular, and on purpose) has been, is and will continue to, produce an uncurious, unsocialised and deliberately uneducated (in a classical liberal Western Canon sense) underclass, so that it can then justify running unimaginably vast policing systems, paid for out of taxation and run by itself. Just think: why would a country of (let’s say) 72 million people, including all the unrecorded immigrants and their dependents, NEED a police force approaching a million individuals?

    Just think of the horror of this.

  7. Thanks David :)

    Regarding your comment, I generally agree, but I’m a little cautious about going too far in accusing our masters of a conspiracy as such. My own mental model of them is rather that they become a de facto conspiracy by “moving as one, with one mind”. I do not believe that in the main they are particularly intelligent- when you look at Polly Toynbee, Ed Balls or WIll Hutton it is hard to see an intellectual elite- but they are driven rather by a low animal cunning which inspires them all to “feel” that the right policies are the ones which happen to benefit themselves at everyone else’s expense.

    Nonetheless, whatever their psychology, I certainly believe that the policies of the Enemy Class have created these problems, whether deliberately or from blind instinct. Though it has to be said that it takes something verging on genius to create such an enormous State education system that can fail to teach youngsters to read. That is an astonishing achievement.

  8. Ian B:

    There is something in what you say.

    Liberty or not, there prob will always be a tiny % of humnan beings who regard their fellow humans as prey.

    The political scum are the white collar end of this spectrum of the wicked.

    Therefore, any anti-crime plan should also include defence against political scum as an integral part of the plan.


  9. Therefore, any anti-crime plan should also include defence against political scum as an integral part of the plan. Suggestions?

    It seems to me there are two ways to get rid of parasites. One is to try to scrape them off, but they will always come back. The second is to remove their food source.

    It seems to me that in the broadest sense, libertarianism is a strategy, or a least a desire, to remove the food source. The only way to be rid of political parasites is to remove the political structures that feed them.

    Liberty or not, there prob will always be a tiny % of humnan beings who regard their fellow humans as prey.

    Indeed, but then I know of no society entirely free of crime outside works of utopian fiction, so any discussion on crime has to be about reduction rather than abolition. For instance, I cannot think of any strategy, whether it be incentives or deterrents, that would prevent a Levi Bellfield or Fred and Rose West, who seem to have stepped beyond rational understanding.

  10. @Ian:-
    I think we agree. Sean and I have for long argued – he for rather more heroically and longer than I – that in the first hours (I’d say minutes and seconds) of a clear Libertarian polling victory (for example, of the English Revolutionary Capitalist Party) certain measures would need to be taken.

    The BBC would need to have its plug pulled within about two seconds of the victory being announced. Otherwise the future will be irremediably poisoned, in advance, by the outgoing State propaganda broadcaster. There would be plenty enough alternative live coverage on private channels anyway, in such a case.

    Within minutes or less than that even, government and State offices and installations previously containing bureaucrats of the less useful variety, would all have to be visited and locked-down. Simultaneously, all payment of State wages to the same “departments” and their pensions would have to be terminated by whatever online banking-termination-system we could find: I expect the State already has a functioning one of these but has carefully said nothing, so we could inherit it. I expect we’d keep the armed Forces live – after all, they would be expected to be mostly “on our side” due to their shabby treatment by all governments since, oh, about Waterloo or before. The Police might need to be paid for long enough to disarm them, since we might want them, as semi-intelligent automata, to help us control outbreaks of local disorder caused by “trade” “unionoids”, whatever those say they are. (They have never seemed to “speak for” any workers that I have known….

    The next thing to do would be to contain the strange but partly understandable upwelling of public vexation and outrage, caused by our abrupt but right and just termination, literally, of a large number of processes previously universally thought to be the preserve of the “government”. I expect this this will be short, due to the necessity of spending time finding out how to be conforming to the dictates of the banking system, which says you have to pay your bills or else, despite being jobless. Most people, even public employees, and not criminally-orientated, so there will be no large explosion of looting, riot or disaffection. People will be too busy.

  11. We shouldn’t treat hte people as our enemy. They are our friends, our very best friends, so just like our socialist friends we want to give them bribes, I mean improve their welfare. Unfortunately as libertarians we can’t give stuff away like the socialists. But we can stop taking so much, which is the same thing with a different datum.

    Don’t worry about the power class. They are small in number, and cannot do anything on their own. The quangocrats and Toynbeeites are not going to storm the WInter Palace. Likewise the grumbling middle class are too torpid and disorganised to bring the government down.

    We can calm the masses by giving them cuts. A libertarian government should, on day one, abolish all duties on alcohol, tobacco, food and petrol. This is the equivalent of a huge giveaway to the poorer classes who suffer from regressive taxes, an instant bonus in their pay packets. We should also enact a major land reform, by abolishing the Town & Cunty Planning Acts; although the effect will not be immediate we should see a signifiant fall in rental prices by the end of our first parliament.

    We should make it clear that for the first term, there will be neither cutting of funding nor reform of the NHS. It cannot be immediately abolished, and reform is probably futile. A few populist directives will be sufficient, such as obligatory single sex wards. A libertarian government should not waste time on exhausting battles, as Thatcher did with the miners. It should be clear that no changes to the NHS will occur until another general election has been held; people can vote for us in the certainty that the NHS will remain, at the same funding level, plus whatever inflation adjustment is necessary.

    A parliament of fabulously cheaper housing, beer, fags and petrol should be enough to get a second term; by which time our massive reform of the financial system (which few of the voters will understand anyway) should be well underway, and the structural changes required for a radical libertarian society will be far advanced; at which time it will be appropriate to campaign on the truly radical “public service” reforms that will mark Phase II.

    /fantasy Prime Minister haha :)

  12. i must ask you to write a foreward to the next edition of Cultural Revolution, Culture War!

  13. It’s a great book Sean, especially the second half. I think however we must focus not just on the relatively easy question of what to do with power, but the far harder one of how to bribe our fellows into giving us it. I know you have done a lot of thinking in this regard, but it’s something everyone needs to think about.

  14. I think Ian is right again. My worries of course have centred on the immediate need for depriving the Enemy-Class of all their shiny state-machinery, plus removing their ability to react to a victory.

  15. Also, abolishing all the Regulators and nudge-nudge of hegemonic industry (e.g. energy) will not only be another shin-kick to the Enemy Class but will, if done forcefully enough, produce a fall in the price of another commodity that a lot of people care about- home energy (electric, gas). We can call it the “No Windmill Dividend”.

    I am basically proposing a narrative of ending “rip off Britain” which ought to have a quite wide appeal to people who will never go near “libertarianism” at a philosophical level.

  16. This solves the problem of some libertarians, who think that an appeal to conservative nationalism (of a minimal-statist-variety) will be a route through to demolishing the hegemonic power of the Enemy-Class.

    I especially like the bit about cutting taxes on beer, fags, spirits, petrol etc. I can’t think why I didn’t think of that myself. But there you go: it’s obvious really. Couple that with totally shutting-down whole rafts of State-operations, such as DEFRA for instance and I think it must be rather expensive, and you’d have whole slabs of people and “groups” voting for us. Like the Farmers/harvesters/slaughterers I’d expect, unless the survivors have been totally Nazified by the last 70 years’ interference in their business. I’d have to see about those.

  17. I’m always in two minds about nationalism, David. On the one hand, I abhor the supernationalist governance structures which are currently being foisted on us, but on the other I cannot help but feel that maybe the nation state system is ready for the knacker’s yard.

    I draw cartoons in England, have my payments processed in the USA and The Netherlands, host my domains in the USA and have customers from all over the world, on every continent bar Antarctica. Where does the nation state fit into such a life?

  18. We really ought to get back to having decent tax allowances for those who have dependants. It’s ridiculous that my son and many like him with dependants have to go through the humiliation of working his way through a mountain of form-filling to prove that his 40 hr week does not allow him to provide properly for his family. When in fact it is the amount of tax he pays which makes him poor.The state, in its generosity gives him a little of it back, with threats of all manner of nasty things should he ever get his info wrong or forget to tell them something they would consider relevant. People are trapped by the state.What’s worse is that it is sold to us as being fair as other’s are worse off, yet how much tax from low earners actually goes as subsidies to the rich and incompetent. People should be allowed to keep far more of what they earn, but then we wouldn’t be so dependant on the state would we.