One of the most vexing questions in the area of criminal justice is the one as to whether there are better alternatives to locking people up in prison. After reflecting on the question, and reading extensively on what various writers have to say about the issue, I have come to the conclusion that there are at least three other viable alternatives to the idea of locking people up in prison.
One alternative to locking people up in prison is that of putting them through treatment for whatever psychiatric issues that pushed them into crime. It is by now well established and settled that people commit crimes because of psychological issues. If those issues can be addressed in the right way, the people in question will no longer be inclined to commit crimes.
Another alternative to locking people up in prison is that of making them apologize to the people they wronged. They can also be made to go to exile for a while, in a symbolic gesture.
Yet another alternative to locking people up in prison is that of making them compensate the people they wronged. Monetary compensation is very effective, what is important is to ensure that the amounts paid out as compensation are amounts that are huge enough to be painful on the part of the people paying up. Thus, if someone who is worth 1 million dollars commits a serious crime, rather than being send to be locked up in prison, he can be made to pay compensation to the tune of 900,000 dollars. This is bound to be very painful to him, and it would deter him from committing a similar crime in the future. The compensation money can then be, for instance, deposited into credit card accounts, for use by the victims of the crime in question. This way, whenever the victims in question go to ATMs to withdraw the money from the credit card accounts, it would serve to ameliorate their pain. This is probably better than just knowing that the people who wronged them are rotting in prison. They gain nothing if the people who wronged them are in prison. But through compensation, there would at least be something tangible for the people to enjoy.
Before thinking of all these measures though, we do first need to set up mechanisms to ensure that people don’t conspire and organize witnesses to frame others. As we saw in our last blog post, we often see cases where witnesses in criminal trials turn out to be folks who are out to frame others.And that is what makes the idea of locking people up even more repugnant — for there is always the possibility of locking up someone who is totally innocent.