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Theft - should people in poverty face lighter punishments? Watch

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    Had an interesting debate at work today with a couple of colleagues regarding the above question.

    I definitely think the background of the criminal should be considered when deciding what sentence to impose. Both of my other colleagues said no and were shocked at my reasoning.

    My two colleagues argument was that the victim of the crime would not care what sort of person committed the theft and that the same crime is of equal wrongness regardless of the criminal.

    I can understand why people in certain situations see crime as their only option. What do other people think? If you were the victim of theft, once your initial reaction had subsided, would you pity the criminal if they were from a deprived background/broken home/abused past or would you want them to be treated the same as a much more fortunate person convicted of the exactly the same crime in near identical circumstances?

    Do you think my opinion is more commonly held than my colleagues opinion?
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      Some might say it's already the other way around. Steal a TV to fund your drug habit... insta-jail. Steal billions from a bank and it's early retirement with a phone number golden goodbye.

      Obviously this is Daily Mail hyperbole but I think you can see where I'm going with this.
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      No. Poverty should be tackled by doing just that - tackling poverty. Not appeasing its victims.
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      I can't believe I'm actually saying that, but if anything the opposite should be entertained. Poor people have an incentive to steal - they commit a crime in order to get something that they wouldn't otherwise get.

      Rich people on the other hand don't have an incentive, which means that it's likely they have a mental disorder which causes them to want to steal, which would sort of mean they have diminished self control.
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      (Original post by l0uis)
      My two colleagues argument was that the victim of the crime would not care what sort of person committed the theft and that the same crime is of equal wrongness regardless of the criminal.

      I can understand why people in certain situations see crime as their only option. What do other people think? If you were the victim of theft, once your initial reaction had subsided, would you pity the criminal if they were from a deprived background/broken home/abused past or would you want them to be treated the same as a much more fortunate person convicted of the exactly the same crime in near identical circumstances?
      The victim of the crime is almost irrelevant. The state provides for them by operating a police force and judiciary. Sentencing is about the state and the offender.

      Ultimately I think the sentence given should be that which is most likely to rehabilitate the offender, provided that some sort of punishment element is satisfied. Naturally that's an individual thing and what's appropriate in one case may be entirely different from what is appropriate in another. Social background contributes to this at least to some degree. A person from a better background's crime may be more galling, but that doesn't necessarily mean a conventionally "tougher" sentence must be appropriate. In some cases though, such as where a trust is broken (ie, a policeman commits an offence whilst on duty and then uses his powers to cover it up) I do believe strong sentences are utterly essential.

      I don't think it's about pity or anything.
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      (Original post by L i b)
      The victim of the crime is almost irrelevant. The state provides for them by operating a police force and judiciary. Sentencing is about the state and the offender.

      Ultimately I think the sentence given should be that which is most likely to rehabilitate the offender, provided that some sort of punishment element is satisfied. Naturally that's an individual thing and what's appropriate in one case may be entirely different from what is appropriate in another. Social background contributes to this at least to some degree. A person from a better background's crime may be more galling, but that doesn't necessarily mean a conventionally "tougher" sentence must be appropriate. In some cases though, such as where a trust is broken (ie, a policeman commits an offence whilst on duty and then uses his powers to cover it up) I do believe strong sentences are utterly essential.

      I don't think it's about pity or anything.
      Hmmm i do believe you are wrong the state is there to provide a punishment that brings justice for the victim.
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      (Original post by L i b)
      The victim of the crime is almost irrelevant. The state provides for them by operating a police force and judiciary. Sentencing is about the state and the offender.

      Ultimately I think the sentence given should be that which is most likely to rehabilitate the offender, provided that some sort of punishment element is satisfied. Naturally that's an individual thing and what's appropriate in one case may be entirely different from what is appropriate in another. Social background contributes to this at least to some degree. A person from a better background's crime may be more galling, but that doesn't necessarily mean a conventionally "tougher" sentence must be appropriate. In some cases though, such as where a trust is broken (ie, a policeman commits an offence whilst on duty and then uses his powers to cover it up) I do believe strong sentences are utterly essential.

      I don't think it's about pity or anything.
      As soon as you start bringing emotion into judgements, you've lost consistency; the absolutely fundamental aspect of law in the UK. The poster here is spot on, take into account the objective circumstances of an offender but emotion cannot factor.
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      (Original post by Dragonfly07)
      I can't believe I'm actually saying that, but if anything the opposite should be entertained. Poor people have an incentive to steal - they commit a crime in order to get something that they wouldn't otherwise get.

      Rich people on the other hand don't have an incentive, which means that it's likely they have a mental disorder which causes them to want to steal, which would sort of mean they have diminished self control.
      total nonsense. The 'disorder' that wealthy criminals have is avarice.
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      (Original post by cambio wechsel)
      total nonsense. The 'disorder' that wealthy criminals have is avarice.
      lol that's true. For some reason I was thinking about petty theft though rather than some big scums. Stealing a TV etc.
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      (Original post by Dragonfly07)
      lol that's true. For some reason I was thinking about petty theft though rather than some big scums. Stealing a TV etc.
      Stealing a TV is presumably quite difficult, requires burglary or looting.

      I can agree that a wealthy person shoplifiting (I dunno) a tin of tuna likely has better opportunity to claim stress/absentmindedness/psychological issues as mitigation.
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      Having more incentive to steal does not make stealing less wrong. It just makes stealing more likely. The statistical odds of being a criminal should have no bearing. The punishment should be the same because the crime is the same.
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      Everyone who commits a crime has a reason for doing it - a mixture of their genetics and their environment. No criminal is any more culpable than another, in my opinion.
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      No one's literally stealing bread to feed their starving children with in this country.

      hypothetically it'd be hard to blame someone for stealing if it really was a life or death necessity.
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      It is a difficult argument I guess but when you see the same social patterns repeated across the world in different cultures it cannot be entirely the fault of the criminal. This is why I believe they should be viewed differently. A person born into a deprived area has a massively greater chance of falling into a life of crime through factors which they have very little control over.

      Appears I am in the minority.
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      No. Poverty should be dealt with of course. But by giving those in poverty lighter sentences you are basically saying that its okay for them to steal.
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      The simple fact is, the huge majority of thefts are committed by very poor people - why would a rich person steal? There's very little incentive. Reducing sentencing for poor people would just end up as reducing sentencing for almost all thefts.
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        (Original post by l0uis)
        Had an interesting debate at work today with a couple of colleagues regarding the above question.

        I definitely think the background of the criminal should be considered when deciding what sentence to impose. Both of my other colleagues said no and were shocked at my reasoning.

        My two colleagues argument was that the victim of the crime would not care what sort of person committed the theft and that the same crime is of equal wrongness regardless of the criminal.

        I can understand why people in certain situations see crime as their only option. What do other people think? If you were the victim of theft, once your initial reaction had subsided, would you pity the criminal if they were from a deprived background/broken home/abused past or would you want them to be treated the same as a much more fortunate person convicted of the exactly the same crime in near identical circumstances?

        Do you think my opinion is more commonly held than my colleagues opinion?
        Firstly, it's worth saying that capitalist society reduces the satisfaction of our basic human needs to a competition, a competition that many must lose while a few win.

        More fundamentally, humans do what is necessary, that is to say they do what the believe or feel is necessary at any given moment in any given situation. Imagine someone attempts to walk out of a supermarket with a dozen packets of razors up their coat. We can indulge in abstract moral condemnation on the basis that a 'free choice' to 'steal' has been made and close our ears to any further discussion or we can, as students are encouraged to, think critically about all the forces, external and internal, past and present, which have led a human being to regard their action as necessary. If we're prepared to go down the latter route and try to look at such behaviour as scientifically as possible, we will surely find that the material conditions of the person, past and present, have directed their actions, their understandings, their values, their desires, their powers of reasoning and their impulses. Our thoughts, our intentions, they come from somewhere, somewhere complex to be sure, but they are not simply plucked out of the aether.
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        (Original post by Ziggy2252)
        Hmmm i do believe you are wrong the state is there to provide a punishment that brings justice for the victim.
        If justice is for anyone, it is for our society as a whole. Justice is not subjective, it is an objective value within our community.
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        (Original post by Oswy)
        Firstly, it's worth saying that capitalist society reduces the satisfaction of our basic human needs to a competition, a competition that many must lose while a few win.
        Our basic human needs are effectively guaranteed in this country. Capitalism is, if anything, a competition for topping-up which - again in this country - the many win, being able to afford abundant luxuries and a standard of living which would make most human beings throughout history blush.

        More fundamentally, humans do what is necessary, that is to say they do what the believe or feel is necessary at any given moment in any given situation. Imagine someone attempts to walk out of a supermarket with a dozen packets of razors up their coat. We can indulge in abstract moral condemnation on the basis that a 'free choice' to 'steal' has been made and close our ears to any further discussion or we can, as students are encouraged to, think critically about all the forces, external and internal, past and present, which have led a human being to regard their action as necessary. If we're prepared to go down the latter route and try to look at such behaviour as scientifically as possible, we will surely find that the material conditions of the person, past and present, have directed their actions, their understandings, their values, their desires, their powers of reasoning and their impulses. Our thoughts, our intentions, they come from somewhere, somewhere complex to be sure, but they are not simply plucked out of the aether.
        It would be a sad day if we, as you appear to be encouraging, decided to consider human beings as creatures without free will and moral choice.
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        No as it could just encourage them to keep doing it as they are not punished as severely.
       
       
       
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