Punishment Enables Reform

Johan Pehrson, Folkpartiet’s (liberal) spokesperson on criminal justice issues, has proposed that children younger than 15 can stand trial for crimes they’ve committed. In Sweden this is a very controversial idea. Up until the age of 15, you can quite literally get away with murder. Up until the age of 18, you barely get any sentences anyway, and even up to the age of 21 there are reductions to the amount of time spent in jail.

Basically, if you murder someone when you’re a 16 year old, you’ll be out by your 18th birthday. No doubt with no more respect for life than before, and certainly not with better potential at succeeding in life.

Now, I think Pehrson’s proposal is an excellent idea. Criminal gangs use children under 15 for a variety of crimes, such as robbery, theft, and even assault using knives and the like, knowing they can’t be prosecuted. In a way, by being immune from legal repercussions, they become victims of gang exploitation. Likewise, and even more importantly, we all know that a life of crime doesn’t just spontaneously manifest. There is almost always a long, steady progress of shoplifting, thefts, assaults, and confrontations with society that builds up to more serious crimes.

By waiting until the child is 15 before we even react, and then until they’re 18 or 21 before they suffer actual consequences, the child will have been taught by society that these acts are fine. It’s disingenuous, really. “Sure, steal this, that’s fine.” “Sure, steal that too.” “Okay, you can steal this as well.” And then suddenly, after the tick tock of the clock striking midnight on their birthday: “Nope, okay, now you’re done for, away to jail with you!” Confusion abounds.

Crime is a serious issue that’s too often dismissed as simply being the result of too little welfare. We need to take serious measures to teach deviant members of society to follow the law, both for the sake of their own futures, but also for the sake of society as a whole. By going soft on them while they’re young, we are actually destroying any hope for reform before it is too late.

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~ by Escaping Perdition on April 22, 2009.

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