NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Restitution not Retribution

November 21, 2003

Although violent offenders make up 49 percent of the prison population, the rest are behind bars for property crimes (19 percent), drug crimes (20 percent) and crimes affecting the "public order" (11 percent), according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Some observers, including Cal Thomas, believe this half of the prison population ought to be doing something other than sitting in prison and costing the law-abiding money.

One approach focuses on restitution rather than retribution. For example, rather than having criminals pay fines to the government, they should instead be required to pay the victim back for stolen property, pay a fine for the victim's inconvenience and pay all court costs related to the crime. Such an approach would have a number of benefits, explains Thomas:

  • Victims would get their property back and they would be the law's primary concern.
  • Forcing the criminal to acknowledge that they have wronged a person and not the state could help the criminal change their view of other people's property.
  • And it would save taxpayers the cost of incarcerating the criminal.

Making criminals pay the person they have wronged is a far better and more proven method for changing lives and behavior than putting someone in prison where statistics show they are more likely to become a better criminal than citizen, says Thomas.

Source: Cal Thomas, "Three Strikes and You're Broke," Jewish World Review, November 13, 2003.

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