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Do laws deter crime?

  1. Sep 11, 2009 #1
    Laws only seem to go so far in getting people not to commit crimes against each other. I believe it has already been studied and established that the role of punishment to make an example as prevention is negligible. People who do not commit crimes because of the law are people living in fear. If they lose that fear, for any reason, then they will commit crimes. Do you think inducing fear as a means of preventing crime is a preferable solution? Or do you think that educating people and making sure that they have an acceptable standard of living would be preferable?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 11, 2009 #2


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    Re: Hostile non-smokers

    I think laws concerning crimes are a huge detriment to crime. Anyone have any statistics to back up their claims that fear of punishment by enforcement of laws is not a significant detriment? I know I personally don't break a lot of laws because I don't want to suffer the consequences. That's called making an intelligent decision in my book. Most people obey laws because they can weigh the pros and cons in a rational manner.

    If people could steal, vandalize, murder, etc.. with no consequences, are you saying that this would not affect how they behave? I believe most rational people DO restrain themselves because they realize the satisfaction of kicking in the car door of that jerk in the parking lot that blocked them in isn't worth the legal consequences. I can't believe people are claiming that laws aren't a detriment to crime.
  4. Sep 11, 2009 #3
    Re: Hostile non-smokers

    I personally dont break laws because I dont believe that behaviour is right, not because there is a law against it. I dont need a law to tell me that killing my neighbor is wrong.
    You wanted stats so you got them:
    http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/prisons.htm" [Broken]

    Nobody is saying we dont need consequences in society. I think after you check out the stats provided you might find that consequences arent all you think they are.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  5. Sep 11, 2009 #4
    Re: Hostile non-smokers

    First, the part I underlined, please rethink that and let me know if you really don't steal and kill people and such because it is against the law rather than a personal educated belief that it would probably be wrong to do such things.

    I think that laws and punishment reduce crime primarily by removing the people who commit crimes from society or reducing their ability to commit the crime again. You'll also find that the vast majority of criminals are poor and under educated and that areas that are wealthy and have access to better education have much less crime.

    While laws and punishment certainly have an effect they are not necessarily the best deterrents.

    edit: thank you Evo
    Last edited: Sep 12, 2009
  6. Sep 12, 2009 #5


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    Re: Hostile non-smokers

    I'll have to take the fifth on that one.

    Wealthy people have more to lose and therefore would be more hesitant to break a law and have the things they love taken away from them. This tends to make them more law abiding.

    [/quote]I was reading about the punishment for theft in a middle eastern country. First offense for stealing, you had a hand cut off. Very effective in reducing theft.
  7. Sep 12, 2009 #6


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    Re: Hostile non-smokers

    These are about people that already decided to ignore laws. We have no idea how many crimes were never commited at all because of laws, I would guess the number is huge.
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  8. Sep 12, 2009 #7
    Re: Hostile non-smokers

    I was reading about the punishment for theft in a middle eastern country. First offense for stealing, you had a hand cut off. Very effective in reducing theft.[/QUOTE]

    Ok, now I am shocked. I do not steal, rape, murder, torture, willfully destroy property, abuse animals, or drive like an idiot, etc.. for one reason only. I think it is rude and disrestectful. Fear of punishment has nothing to do with it, I have nothing to fear, because I am not comitting any crimes, nor do I plan to in the future.

    Cutting of people hands, huh...and here I thought we lived in a civilised society, where that kind of brutalisation of people was not practised... did you check what happens to a woman when she gets raped? She gets jailed or killed. Especially, since in those countries a womans statement carries only half the weight of a mans statement.

    Personally, I would tell anyone that approves of such laws to go live there. I know, I do not want to. My forebears actually payed attention during the age of enlightenment and were nice enough to pass their values on to their progeny.

    Intelligent and peaceful discussion beats threats anytime (Imho). You will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

    As for your apartment situation... I do not know if you own or rent, but either way, something has to give. I you can not reach a reasonable compromise with your neighbors, you will either have to chose to move/sell, or force them to move/sell.

    By the way, which one of you was in the building first?
  9. Sep 12, 2009 #8
    And what are the laws governing the female part of your population?

    If the only thing that keeps a person from murdering another person is the fear of punishment, than that person is in dire need of help. That fear will only go so far, add a trigger that removes the fear of getting caught, and then what... have at it as long as no one knows.

    Or perhaps join a terrorist group? They can give you reasons why other do not deserve to live... througout history, faith has been the favorite banner of people that are powerhungry and want to befuddle the masses.

    Used to be they gave people a choice, jo to jail or go in the army, that way if you get lucky and go to a war, you can be yourself without fear of punishent.

    Sorry, i think laws keep honest folk honest (which they would be withou the laws as well).

    Anytime you have people flock together you find rules of conduct, so the society can funtion. A pack of wolves has rules. Punishment was meted out to keep people in line. People apparently were not occupied primarily with killing each other before there were laws.

    Crime statistics rise during recessions, because more people are living at poverty level... and throughout the agent, a parent will do what needs done to feed his/her brood.

    You have people living in the welfare system for generations. why? what keeps them from extricating themselves?

    Laws to not deter crime, they punish the offenders, so law abiding citizens do not take the law in their own hands and simly lynch the offender.
  10. Sep 12, 2009 #9
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  11. Sep 12, 2009 #10
    Re: Hostile non-smokers

    I am certain that people often feel the desire to break the law, maybe even become so enraged that they feel as though they would like to kill someone, but is it really likely that a fear of punishment is what makes a person continually make the law abiding decision? Fear may work in many or even most instances but eventually many people lose or disregard that fear. People who are particularly poor often wind up with "nothing left to lose" and so do not care about the consequences. Many wealthy people wind up feeling "above the law" and do not believe the consequences apply to them. People who break the law, break away from the fear of the law, just once will often wind up disregarding the law again and again.

    People who are educated and/or have a sense of community are less likely to break the law. Is it because they fear the consequences? or because they understand the consequences? We can not only look at punishment as the consequence of committing a crime, there are many other consequences as well including the manner in which you will be perceived by others for your actions among other things. An educated person is generally more capable of critically analyzing their actions, realizing the consequences, and weighing the cost vs benefit. People who are community oriented tend to be more conscientious of the effect of their actions on other people and their community. It seems to me that the number of deterring factors when one considers the consequences of ones actions go far beyond mere punishment and when you look at the average criminal they tend to lack for any other deterrent than punishment.

    The idea behind the law in a democratic society is that it is a social contract between its members. People are agreeing to abide by these rules out of respect for one another and the cohesion and safety of their community. So in the vast majority of cases of 'laws not being broken' I think we can safely say it is due to the 'agreement' of law over the 'deterrent' of punishment. Just how many people are effectively deterred by prescribed punishment is hard to say though.
  12. Sep 12, 2009 #11


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    I think the laws are a deterrent. Well actually, not so much the laws themselves but the enforcement.

    That is, I generally prefer cops not initiating conversations with me.

    In a town near where I live, picking a sign off the sidewalk while taking a stroll and moving it out of the way will get you pulled over. Apparently picking it up is stealing, and moving it out of the way is litter. Go figure.
    Anyways, I don't pick up signs off the sidewalk anymore. Unless I have a nice t-shirt that says "volunteer" and am picking up litter.

    Even though this is a real example, I concede it is a bit ridiculous. Still, the law is the reason I use my turn signal even on bicycles, don't bicycle at night without a light, don't jaywalk, don't torrent copyrighted stuff illegally, don't hack on any site but hackthissite.com... etc.

    Sure... not everybody's deterred, but it does work on some people. (I know I'm not the only one!)
    So yes, the laws are a deterrent, just not as effective on everybody for everything.
  13. Sep 12, 2009 #12
    Laws are made by the corrupt and powerful, who make the laws to favor themselves and keep lower-class people in control...
  14. Sep 12, 2009 #13
    Re: Hostile non-smokers

    Right not only did the "deterent" not stop them the first time, for 67% or so it didn't even deter them the second or third time.

    The stats you want are impossible, how would you ever find that number? If they didnt commit a crime what statistic are they a part of? I guess we could do a national survey of all non-criminal citizens and ask pointed questions in order to get the answer you seek. I personally dont think many people would say that they would kill their neighbor if it wasnt against the law(you might be the exception after reading about the "fun" youve been having with your neighbors though). I guess your speculation is as good as gold though.
  15. Sep 12, 2009 #14
    I guess you have never heard the quote that the government should be afraid of its citizens, the citizens shouldnt be afraid of their government.
  16. Sep 12, 2009 #15


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    I forgot to say in my last post: Law is a deterrent, but not nearly as effective as other deterrents that you mentioned in your post.

    As for trying to determine how many people would do something if it weren't against the law, I suppose looking at Holland might be an idea, as many things are legal there that aren't legal elsewhere. On the other hand, Holland has a high literacy rate and other factors that could throw the results.

    I have heard it. I'm not afraid of law enforcement officers: I've been protected by them more times than I've been accosted by them. Still I'd prefer to be the one to initiate any interaction.
  17. Sep 12, 2009 #16
    This post was apparently deleted but I don't see anything objectionable about this part of it so I will go ahead and respond.

    I am only suggesting that there are different ideas at work behind law and punishment than we may usually consider and that it effects the manner in which we treat the subject of crime deterrence, sometimes detrimentally. Also I did not pick the thread title but it works well enough.

    Law, as I noted in my last post, is an agreement not a deterrent. Punishment can be a deterrent but I do not think that is the best and logical means of perceiving it. Traditionally it has definitely been seen as a deterrent and generally wielded as one by most governments and rulers. But we no longer live in a society based on a philosophy that a ruler or a ruling class should have the power to threaten force to keep the unwashed masses in line. Instead, in a modern democratic society, the sentence for a crime has become an agreement between its members as to the proper means of handling those who transgress the agreed upon rules. You are sentenced to pay fines not so much as a deterrent but as restitution. You are sentenced to prison to remove you from society and take away your ability to commit further crimes while hopefully making you rethink your decision.

    If you look at crime prevention/deterrence strategies used in the US punishments are rarely a primary element. Educating people about the effects of crimes has become the favoured approach in most cases.
  18. Sep 12, 2009 #17
    The capital punishment does NOT serve as a deterent... that's a punishment utilized by the legal system for very specific crimes...

    Some laws definitely serve to deter the average person though. For isntance laws on the road. I do not think that the legal system is in place to instill fear in the population though. I don't think that just because you listen to something that the reason you do so is automatically fear...
  19. Sep 12, 2009 #18
    The law is certainly still used improperly and some people use it as a means of exercising control and power over others but philosophically and logically they do not really work when applied in this fashion. There are some really steep fines for littering where I live but such a significant number of people are not deterred by it that there is still a major problem and they keep blindly raising the fines apparently figuring that will help even though it obviously does not.

    DUIs are probably the best example of punishment as a deterrent that does not work. The vast majority of people have no idea what the punishment for receiving a DUI is but somehow always think that it must not be strict enough and so always support stronger punishments. The people most active in pushing stricter legislation for drunk driving are MADD, people whose children have died in alcohol related accidents. Obviously these people are very upset and on a crusade. Their main purpose seems to be to get back at drunk drivers, not preventing drunk driving. If they really wanted to prevent drunk driving they would see that the all of their hard work at making sure drunk drivers are punished as harshly as possible has not had very much effect. There is a near 100% recidivism rate among drunk drivers though many people may not actually be caught more than once. When I received a DUI and went through the DUI program they made no bones about telling us that most likely every single one of us that were there would wind up drinking and driving again. L.A. is currently having such a major problem with people getting multiple DUIs that they have created a special task force for no other purpose than to follow around people with multiple DUIs to make sure that they are abiding their probation/parole.
    The problem with DUI punishments are that they can totally ruin a persons life, and people who are stressed out and have their life messed up are highly likely to continue drinking and making stupid decisions.
  20. Sep 12, 2009 #19
    I see way too many posts that are highly opinionated when actual data exists to make factual statements..........................
  21. Sep 12, 2009 #20


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    I'd speed/j-walk/carry weapons/do... "pranks" to people.... if they all weren't against the law. This argument should toss out anything that has to do with like, rape or murder. Only an extreme minority of people actually see the punishments of such crimes and think "I'd do it if it weren't for the punishment...". That is, if rape became legal, only sociopaths would do it when normally they wouldn't.

    Let's get realistic though... if your boss is a douchebag and you feel he got someone fired because he would get a promotion for it, would you possibly vandalize his car if it weren't illegal? Maybe even steal or rob him to "make things right"? Maybe you're one of these anti-corporate fanatics (which aren't rare, look at this forum!)... stealing isn't legal... god only knows what could come of them. Look at the whole mp3 nonsense about stealing music. Millions of songs are essentially stolen because people basically know they won't face punishments which is the same as it being legal, despite our typical education saying that stealing, even minor, is wrong. And before people get out of hand with this, im excluding people who actually do get a song who then purchase the actual song.

    I can think up numerous situations where I'd commit what are currently considered crimes if they were no longer crimes. Hell, and I'm a very law-abiding, moral citizen. Imagine most other people...
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