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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 November 2005, 13:43 GMT
Why should I foot the bill for crime?
Amanda Morton
In this week's reader's article, Amanda Morton, who works in IT support and lives in Broughty Ferry, argues that offending should hit criminals in the pocket. To send us your views on this topic, see below.

HIT CRIMINALS IN THEIR POCKETS

When I pick up a local newspaper, there are several sections I always look at first: wedding photos, the obituaries and birth announcements and then I go straight to the comedy section, or to give it its official name, the court section.

Car thief

Who's been up to mischief and what "punishment" have they received for their crimes? It's guaranteed to give a few laughs.

I read constantly of yobs causing 5,000 worth of damage and then being fined something lousy like 100.

The next item will be someone stealing a car and writing it off, then being fined 200, or perhaps breaking a door down and paying nothing at all?

Has the world gone barking mad?

Why am I, Johnny Working-Taxpayer, paying for their crimes?

Why don't offenders have to pay the actual cost of the crime they've committed?

Written off

Why not make them pay to repair the damage on top of a fine or other punishments?

Why don't offenders have to cover the cost of the cars they've written off?

Indeed, why must my insurance premiums and taxes skyrocket each year to cover someone else's misdemeanours?

Let's stop worrying about the offenders' situation and start looking out for those people who are left to pay for it all

In effect, why don't they pay for their crimes? Surely money is the only language we all understand, and our greatest motivator?

Couldn't the government or the courts consider the end cost to society and take this into consideration when looking at crime and punishment?

We should be making the criminals pay for the cost of the damages they've inflicted and compensation to the victims, perhaps also the solicitors' fees, the court costs and the lost incomes of the jurors.

I know what the argument will be - it's unworkable, the offenders couldn't afford it, or they're on income support and I'll end up paying it anyway - but my response is why not?

Everybody is getting some money from somewhere. We could deduct payments from all sources of income.

Made to pay

Benefits, wage packets, pensions, income support. If they don't have enough to live on, they'll maybe think twice before re-offending.

I don't care if it takes them years to pay it off as long as they're being made to pay.

They have to reach a point eventually when they literally can't afford to commit any more crime.

Let's stop worrying about the offenders' situation and start looking out for those people who are left to pay for it all!

Hand me the government for six months and we'll really see people "paying for their crimes".

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and are not endorsed by the BBC.


We asked for your views on Amanda Morton's article.

I think we should adopt the "three strikes and you're out" approach - with National Service being mandatory for the repeat youth offenders. May solve the army's recruitment problem as well. I'd rather pay that as a taxpayer than watch them walk off scot free only to no doubt reoffend.
Chris , Glasgow

I think it would be a nice idea, but have you stopped to think why these people are committing crimes in the first place? If a person can't afford to live as a result of there crimes then how will that rehabilitate them. Surely they will just steal to live and then any further monetary punishment becomes irrelevant. You can't make people pay fines from illegal income. It would just be like telling them "Go ahead and steal but you'll only be allowed to keep 50% of it so best take twice as much mate."
Adrian Simpson, Edinburgh

National service should be brought back, to teach them some basic respect and self discipline, didn't have much of a problem in those days, and the police could cuff you round the ear if you were caught doing something you shouldn't, the authority and discipline has been taken away from the very people that are there to protect us and the youngsters - police, teachers, law etc etc need i go on.
Sally, Nuneaton UK

I totally agree with Amanda, she talks more sense than many politicians. There has for a very long time been no deterrent for criminals, the law is ridiculous, the punishment should fit the crime and the offenders should be putting something back into society, but getting paid when they are locked up adds insult to injury.
Jim Henderson, Deeside, Flintshire, N Wales

I agree with Amanda: if the offender cannot afford to pay their fine they should be made to work to pay for it. There are roads that need building, rocks that need to be broken, graffiti that needs to be scrubbed off. Hard Labour could mean just that. Maybe we need British "chain gangs" getting things done.
Don Hughes, Basingstoke, UK

Most would agree with the sentiment, however the problems arises with the execution (inability to pay, collection cost etc). This requires a broader hardening of societies "punishment" combined with practical abilities to finance it - i.e. if payment is defaulted on, the criminal is forced into labour to ensure it's self financing (e.g. penitentiary work houses/foreign armed service). I personally believe this would also have beneficial rehabilitation effects. Unfortunately the liberal aspirations of the majority of the public would find this unacceptable and I fear the problem will become much worse before the hard decisions are seriously considered.
Jim, Glasgow

"If they don't have enough to live on, they'll maybe think twice before re-offending." If they don't have enough to live on, they'll need to steal in order to eat. Larger fines might work for organised criminals, but for petty criminals with no assets, it's just plain stupid.
Alisdair, Edinburgh

Once again, we see a knee-jerk response to crime. Although not decrying the individual's ability to make a choice, we have to face the facts that the huge, gaping inequalities in our society are a root cause of most of the crimes against property; they devalue the results of making a choice about whether or not to commit a crime to the point where it makes no difference. Instead of focusing on dealing with it after the event, law enforcement and social policy in this country needs to move to a more proactive approach, and deal with the causes of crime, rather than throwing away the key.
Chris , Glasgow

Amanda is correct in everything she says. It makes my blood boil at what people get away with.
Willie, Penicuik

I think large sections of our society have passed the point of financial responsibility and it's time to look at alternative, workable, economic and quick methods of instilling respect. A court administered system of corporal punishment would go a long way towards controlling the currently uncontrollable.
David Dempsie, Aberdeen Scotland

We could do with Amanda in government. What she says makes more sense than the softly, softly approach.
I Guthrie, Edinburgh

The problem with the current legal system is that the criminal side of it is designed to dole out punishment, and the civil law side deals with compensation. If the victim wants compensation, they are free to sue for it, although most can't be bothered to do so - and why should they have to go to the trouble to do so when they are the victims. It would require a fundamental change to move to the system Amanda is suggesting where both compensation and punishment are dealt with at the same time by a single court, but that is no reason why it couldn't or shouldn't happen. For offences like criminal damage, a single court should first work out the total cost of the damage, add on the police and court costs and fine the offender that amount. They should then add an additional fine or a jail term as punishment. The punishment element of the sentence should take into account the criminal's circumstances (ability to pay, likelihood of reoffending, past convictions, remorse, etc), but the compensation that the criminal is ordered to pay should be governed only by the cost of the crime to the victim and to society as a whole. It is true that some criminals wouldn't be able to pay all of their compensation. However, that is not an argument for not trying for as long as it takes to make them pay as much as they can. Most of the population would see Amanda's proposal as firm but fair. It is also fairly obvious, so why wasn't the law changed years ago?
Tim, Bath, England

Given the low rate of collection of fines even at current levels, Amanda is going to have to pay a lot more in taxes to fund the prisons we'll require to lock up defaulters.
Colin MacDonald, Glasgow, Scotland

Reducing punishment for crimes to a matter of money is demeaning to our society. If the crime doesn't damage bank balances is it less important? Is someone who beats another around the head with a baseball bat to be punished less harshly than someone evading tax? Both are crimes, but the cost of medical care, rehabilitation and a short criminal trial may well be less than millions stolen from the country and months spent in court. Attempting to develop an understanding of the criminal justice system through reading about "yobs" in a local newspaper is ridiculous. As a taxpayer and NHS employee I'd also question the use of the word "skyrocket" in relation to taxes.
Jan, Glasgow

Spot on Amanda, I grew up with 'bad boys' and some went on to become petty thieves, vandals and anti-social thugs. They don't care for their victims and are full of personal anger that 'justifies' their behaviour. I do believe some can be helped, but most should be given some kind of 'heavier' punishments. Cos they're still 'mad for it'.
David, Clydebank

It's hard to say how to deal with petty criminals that steal or destroy other people's possessions. Most of these petty criminals are not old enough to be fined or even convicted. I personally believe that the only way to get these criminals to stop doing the crime they are doing is to move them away from the areas in which they do these crimes. Send them to another part of the country to work off their debt away from the friends and family that are obviously doing nothing for them being in that area they are in. Make them work for a charity or even send them abroad to work under security firms in places such as Iraq or Afghanistan. Maybe criminals will stop and think the next time they steal something they may end up going to work in a part of the world that might not be the safest place. Although it's quite an extreme measure, maybe it's time we employed extreme means.
Andrew, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

I agree in principle with Amanda's idea. But what about murderers, rapists etc. How do you make them pay pack for their crimes?
Johnny, Airdrie

While I share the frustration of Amanda, care should be taken we don't shoot ourselves in the foot. The writer says: "If they don't have enough to live on, they'll maybe think twice before re-offending." My concern would be that for some people not having enough to live on would push them into more crime. But for those who are not quite so close to the poverty line, such as drunks on a night on the town who decide to do some vandalism and who can obviously afford the money to go out on the town, then yes, hit them hard with tough monetary fines.
Colin Fetland, London

My car was broken into recently and my car stereo stolen. If (and that's a big if) anyone is caught for this, I have no faith whatsoever in recovering the 250 (at least) that I am out of pocket as a result. It seems to me that the victim is forgotten in this. I would have most likely been in trouble if I had caught the offender at it and knocked him into the middle of next week with a frying pan. That's assault, apparently. I feel that a criminal ceases to be entitled to protection from the law when (s)he is in the process of breaking said law. I'm not saying that we should murder people who drop litter, but a law abiding citizen should be able to use, without hesitation or thought for any legal consequences, any reasonable means necessary to defend his/her person and property. But to get off my soapbox and reply to the issue discussed here, then I can see that fines should be more proportional to the crime/amount of damage caused. Fine in theory. The problem will come when trying to extract payment of these fines. I think if the criminals knew they couldn't run for cover under the very law that they are breaking, more would think twice about committing crimes in the first place.
Matthew Norrie, Aberdeen

The justice system today is utterly ridiculous and needs a radical re-think. For many of the worst offenders, prison is simply an all-expenses paid trip to a holiday camp with the boys. Imposing fines of thousands of pounds and then allowing criminals to pay them back at 2 a week for the next 500 years is equally ludicrous. Jail should be reserved for the violent, those from whom we need to protect the public. Other offenders should be forced to carry out back-breaking physical labour (similar to US chain gangs) until they have literally repaid their debt to society. After all, the only thing most of them really fear - and therefore the only real deterrent against today's criminals - is the threat of actually having to work.
Paul, Glasgow

Criminals don't worry about fines for bad behaviour because they get to pay them off at 13p per week. Stop this easy payments system and demand payment in full or face jail.
Fiona, Glasgow

I totally agree, our society is going crazy, criminals seem to have more rights than honest hard working people. As a result the whole fabric of society is falling apart resulting in selfish people who think they can do what they want and to hell with anyone else. Kids these days have no respect for adults, because they know there's nothing we can do if they step out of line, criminals have no respect for the law because they know they'll probably get a pathetic fine. The kids that grow up doing what they want are more likely to be criminals in older age or at best treat their fellow human beings with total disregard, e.g. playing loud music at night, "what are the neighbours going to do?" Dump their old settee or furniture in the street, "who's going to stop me?" We should look at other countries such as Saudi Arabia where criminals don't get away with anything. I don't think we should go as far as the Saudis but we can learn from the way they treat criminals. I don't want to live in a country where if someone breaks into my house I can not hit them unless they go for me first, this is wrong, they shouldn't be there. I'm all for people's rights, but the bleeding heart do-gooders are ruining our society. People should be afraid to commit crime because they know they will be punished.
Stuart, Glasgow

I have sympathy with this 'incensed' citizen, but to me it's simple. Firstly, benefits are not enough to live on in the first place, which is one of the reasons angry people smash things up and steal. If they can't pay their fine then they go to jail, I think that costs us about 400 a week, not something I would be happy to pay just to satisfy Amanda's sense of justice. I would much prefer to see criminals such as tax cheats or corrupt officials, who are stealing from the most vulnerable in society, receive lengthy jail sentences. They should know better and they do have something to lose. Which I think is the fundamental problem, it's very difficult to control the behaviour of people who have nothing to lose.
Craig, Edinburgh

Sounds a good idea in theory - but you might find that criminals would commit more crime to cover the cost of their previous ones.
John, Montrose

I very much sympathise with Amanda's views but feel her dismissal of the argument that her system, if implemented, would be unworkable is naive. I feel that such a system would create more bureaucracy to administer (I can imagine a situation where councils etc would be paying 1,000s to chase up people who are defaulting on their payments) and ultimately end in an increased price tag for the tax payer.
John, Aberdeenshire

While we have a daft punishment system the criminals will continue to flout the law. If they had to pay the actual costs to whatever crime/damage they had done they might think - we know they currently don't - before breaking the law. Also we should bring back birching until society learns to control itself.
Lee, Edinburgh

Such populist purse appealing views are likely to win much head nodding - myself included. However, oh that things were so simple. Many people committing crimes have other difficulties, such as alcohol/drug misuse, and are involved in crime to pay for expensive addictions. For these people imposing much higher fines would be as unrealistic as the supposed low fines that are being ridiculed here.
Derek Clark, London

While I sympathise with the comments made and have had similar thoughts myself I do wonder if the result of such an approach would be a huge underclass of disaffected youths with literally nothing to lose. In the long run this would be completely counter-productive. I do feel that these criminals should be confronted with the effects of their wrong-doing but this isn't necessarily the way.
Sam Brown, UK

I agree with the writer. Further I think that individual people who commit crimes should forfeit their rights. They should not be allowed to vote, they should not be allowed any luxuries, they should spend custodial time that fits the offence. Everyone says the prisons are full but there is lots of room yet. As long as there is room for another prisoner to stand the prisons are not full.
Tom Whalen, Aberdeen

If they have no money how about working for the community doing jobs we would like doing but can't afford. They could clear rubbish from streams and river banks, wipe the grime off ornamental work in town centres, etc. They could 'earn' i.e. pay off their debt at minimum wage. OK it wouldn't compensate the victim but at least we'd get something out of those who are thumbing their noses at the system.
Rosemary, Renfrewhire

Sorry to spoil the party, but this is totally unworkable. Where do people get the vast sums of money to fund drug habits? By shoplifting, armed robbery etc. Just because they can't afford their habit doesn't stop them. It would be just the same here, just because someone receives a fine bigger than they can afford may not stop them. In fact, you could argue that it will drive them further into crime as that is the only easy way to stump up the money. Fines (of any size) are more of a deterrent to someone like myself with a job, an income and a decent life, than to someone who is already on the fringes of society.
Ian MacLaren, Glasgow

I couldn't agree more with these comments. There is far too much emphasis placed on offenders and no-one gives a damn about the victim.
P Hendry, Edinburgh

I think Amanda's problem with the justice system is because of a shift in emphasis in society to a cult of the individual. Human rights have gone mad. Everywhere you turn there are rights, but these are never tied to responsibilities. But when someone suffers, there is an immediate cry for compensation - someone must pay, but no-one is responsible. This shift in the balance of society has resulted in the removal of corporal punishment in schools, as it might infringe the child's rights, with the frightening result of increasing violence in the classroom as kids see no-one is able to control them. The one time murderer is released from prison, as capital punishment or genuine life imprisonment would infringe his personal rights and he goes on to repeat the crime. No thoughts anywhere of the rights of the victim, of course. He's now dead and doesn't matter. What is needed is a return to "outdated" values where wrongdoing is punished. And in our increasingly material society repayment in monetary values seems well worth trying. Confiscate anything of value the criminal has to pay for the damage and make restitution to the victims of the crime.
Mike, Edinburgh

I agree with the sentiments of the article. I read of a woman who's car was written off when an uninsured and untaxed driver smashed his car into hers. After he was found guilty in court he was given a fine of a few hundred pounds, which would almost certainly be less than the cost of taxing and insuring (and MOTing) the vehicle. You could say that such fines are an active encouragement to break the law provided you don't mind having a criminal record, and for many lowlifes this isn't a problem because they either have one already or don't mind because it will help them fit in with their mates. On the other hand forcing some people to pay large amounts of money for very expensive damage is likely to become such a burden that some of them may see no option but to opt for crime and we may lose the opportunity to reform many of them, which isn't necessarily good for the rest of us. So fines need to be large enough to be a deterrent and punishment but not so large that they destroy someone's incentive to work for a living for half their life.
Steve, Edinburgh

I absolutely agree with Amanda's sentiments, the justice system needs to provide a clear and dissuasive consequence to any given crime. Covering the cost of the crime is the least that criminals should come to expect. Why should the honest tax payer suffer at the expense of law breakers? It sends out entirely the wrong message.
Adam, Gateshead

I am sure that the majority of the population would fully agree with the sentiments expressed by Amanda.
Derek Anderson, East Kilbride




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