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# Punishment Market

A punishment to suit the criminal
 (+11, -5) [vote for, against]

If we look at punishment from an economic perspective, one of its purposes is to create disutility to the criminal, to act as a deterrant.

The potential "ideal criminal" will weigh up the utility gained from the crime against the disutility of punishment multiplied by the probability of being caught. If the first exceeds the latter, s/he will commit the crime.

Therefore, courts tend to match the level of punishment to the average utility gained from a crime. For example, stealing \$10 means one week in prison, and stealing \$10m means 10 years.

But a one-size-fits all incarceration system has two flaws. Since utility is subjective, different criminals will experience different levels of disutility from the same punishment. Some criminals detest life in prison, others don't mind it so much, and few even enjoy it. The other problem is that punishment is arbitrary. "Years in prison" is not a standardised, measurable quantity. How much a convict suffers depends on the prison conditions, which show big variations from prison to prison. So some criminals get off lighter than they should, and some harsher, which is unjust.

Not only is this unfair to the victims, but a certain proportion of criminals will not be deterred by a punishment that is designed to match the average criminal's perspective.

As a solution, I suggest a punishment market. Instead of being awarded a certain number of years in prison, a criminal is awarded punishment credits. S/he can then buy different types of punishment until the credits are used up, at which point the criminal is released.

For instance, one credit could buy you 1 year in a luxury prison, 6 months in a standard prison, 4 months hard labour, 2 months solitary confinement, 30 lashes, or amputation of a finger.

Criminals will then try to minimise their disutility by purchasing the product they hate the least at the best price.

But hang on, isn't the purpose of prison to maximise disutility, rather than the opposite? Yes, but the advantage of the minimisation process is that the *variance* in disutility for a given punishment will narrow. Criminals who detest prison but merely dislike lashes will choose lashes. Criminals who don't find prison as bad as lashes will choose prison. Instead of some criminals detesting their punishment while others mere dislike it, all will dislike it equally. And the lowering of the overall disutility can simply be compansated by increasing the level of punisment for a given crime by about 30%.

The question of how to set the prices still remains. The point of the system is to differentiate prisoners as efficiently as possible, so the price ratio between punishment A and punishment B would be chosen so that 50% of prisoners choose A and 50% choose B. If both A and B are designed to have the same number of vacancies, a basic supply/demand mechanism would set the price.

 — kinemojo, May 26 2006

Very ingenious, but I missed the point/didn't understand the part where you explain why all this might be a good idea. i.e. what are the benefits of the system?
 — zen_tom, May 26 2006

 I'll repeat: Less variation in individual disutility for a given punishment.

The practical advantages are less crime and more fairness of justice.
 — kinemojo, May 26 2006

Oh, heck, I'll bun this just for creativity.
 — Galbinus_Caeli, May 26 2006

 I still don't get it. There are some criminals who really wont mind having their fingers chopped off in exchange for a cool \$5,000,000. If a criminal gets to choose his punishment, wouldn't that generate more crime?

 Likewise, I think I'd personally cope rather better in solitary confinement than I would being bashed around and prodded by violent psychopathic thugs - does that mean I can reduce my sentence by just going for something different?

How are you going to regulate the market? i.e. how are you going to ensure that there are a limited supply of 'bargains' when all the various punishments are in equal supply? What I mean to say is, I don't understand
a) the dynamics of this market
b) how these dynamics will bring about the results you suggest.
 — zen_tom, May 26 2006

 >> If a criminal gets to choose his punishment, wouldn't that generate more crime? <<

 No, because the introduction of choice would be balanced by harsher sentencing for a given crime.

 >>that mean I can reduce my sentence by just going for something different?<<

 No, you oly have the choice between suffering short and hard, or suffering long and soft.

 >>How are you going to regulate the market?

As I've said, the 50/50 rule. Say, for the sake of simplicity, that there are two punishments, luxury prison and tough prison. Say that the tough prison costs 10 credits per year and the luxury prison costs 1 credit. Now if, only 10% of convicts chose the tough prison option, the price would increase, for instance to 30 credits per year, until 50% of convicts chose it.
 — kinemojo, May 26 2006

 //Now if, only 10% of convicts chose the tough prison option, the price would increase, for instance to 30 credits per year, until 50% of convicts chose it.// This is the part I don't understand, if you increase the price, even fewer convicts will choose it. So you'll have to decrease the price for the really outlandish things, meaning that convicts who can deal with weird and wonderful punishments will buy them at less than market value.

 //No, because the introduction of choice would be balanced by harsher sentencing for a given crime.// Will it? What if they *want* to live in a nice luxury prison?

 I just don't see what advantages this system will have over the current one.

 If you enforce this 50/50 balancing scheme, you're bringing back all the arbitrary and unfair nature of the punishment anyway.

Why not cut to the chase, and just increase the 'disutility' of all the punishments by 30% and apply them as normal?
 — zen_tom, May 26 2006

What zen_tom is saying.
Also, this isn't a market.
 — jutta, May 26 2006

 >>This is the part I don't understand, if you increase the price, even fewer convicts will choose it.<<

 No, because we have an inverse price mechanism.

Remember, convicts are trying to spend their credits as quickly and painlessly as possible, so they will seek the a product for the highest price possible.
 — kinemojo, May 26 2006

 OK, so you've an inverse price mechanism. The main question still stands - what does all this jiggery pokery actually achieve?

 The convicts want to spend their points more quickly, and you've rigged the prices so that what-ever they choose, they lose. Wont they lose interest once they've figured it out, and just tick whatever box comes first? What's in it for the convict to choose one thing over another?

 If it's the choice of hard or soft: //No, you only have the choice between suffering short and hard, or suffering long and soft.//

 Then why not just give this choice, and do without all the tricky (but seemingly pointless) analysis and game-play?

What effect does the game have that the straightforward choice doesn't?
 — zen_tom, May 26 2006

 >>What's in it for the convict to choose one thing over another?<<

 Different people dislike different things.

 >>Then why not just give this choice, and do without all the tricky (but seemingly pointless) analysis and game-play?<<

 Because there needs to be some sort of measure of how much disutility one form of punishment is causing over another.

 >>What effect does the game have that the straightforward choice doesn't?<<

 Having a standard "currency" of punishment will make sentencing easier, more transparent and fairer. People will develop a "feel" over how much a credit is worth.

"Years in prison" is a bad measure of punishment. It's not standardised. How much suffering a year in prison will cause depends on the prison and the personality of the convict. So the current system punishes criminals arbitrarily, to some extent.
 — kinemojo, May 26 2006

 You are treating this as though the only point in prison is to punish. It isn't. Much of it is simply to keep criminals off our streets or to rehabilitate them.

 It's irrelevant anyway because no politician in their right mind would suggest a system to let prisoners choose the circumstances of their sentance, no matter what the justification.

Moreover, is a new way to sentence people really an invention?
 — hidden truths, May 27 2006

 //It's irrelevant anyway because no politician in their right mind would suggest a system to let prisoners choose the circumstances of their sentance, no matter what the justification.//

Why not? Less arbitrary does not mean less harsh.
 — kinemojo, May 29 2006

 //Why not cut to the chase, and just increase the 'disutility' of all the punishments by 30% and apply them as normal?//

Wouldn't change the arbitrary nature of punishment.
 — kinemojo, May 29 2006

\\Why not? Less arbitrary does not mean less harsh\\ Perhaps not but unless incredibly carefully spun, it would be perceived to be catering to prisoners, to give them the choice of what 'punishment' they would prefer. (I have my suspicions that this might be why your vote score isn't higher as well)
 — hidden truths, May 29 2006

In fact, prison does not reform people. Bun for innovation. Bun withheld until you can answer these questions: How will you deal with the unfair punishments given out until the 50% point is reached? How will you deal with the concept of cruel and unusual punishment? How will you convince a politician to not just "be harder on the prisoners" and accept this idea? How many life-in-prisons are worth a death penalty?
 — Voice, May 02 2008

 Two things:

 One, judges should have some extreme latitude in sentencing.

 "You may complete your high school diploma, and get a job, or serve four years".

 And, the ten dollars means a week premise and ten million means ten years is incorrect. I don't know where you live, but in my country, ten dollars means no time to four years, and ten million means no time to four years.

2.5 million in four years is a pretty reasonable hourly wage.
 — normzone, May 02 2008

 The main thing I have against this idea is its aim to quantify suffering, and similarly the concept that prison is a means to inflict suffering upon a criminal. If that's what you want you should adopt the Sudanese punishment-to-suit-the-crime system. Whether you steal \$10 or \$10,000,000 you'll get your hand lopped off either way.

I'll take the lashes, thanks.
 — theleopard, May 02 2008

Good idea. Most of the critics, except the one making the important point that punishment isn't the only point of jail, don't seem to have read it carefully. US Constitution forbids cruel punishment, which isn't defined. Waterboarding seems unconstitutional, but someone might prefer it to lengthy detention.
 — Ford, May 02 2008

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