Punishment, deterrence, what about reconciliation?

Published by Tony Quinlan on

Catching up and closing down some of the tabs I opened a while ago, I came across this piece from the FT. The interesting bit is the first few paragraphs:

Few Tories are followers of Dostoevsky. He could have added a word to the title of his great novel: Crime and Punishment – and Redemption. Most Tories would prefer to concentrate on punishment. Told that short prison sentences are ineffective, they will retort: “lengthen them”. Informed that most prisons are too crowded to be effective agents of rehabilitation, most Tories are unimpressed. Sceptical about the very notion of rehabilitation, they argue that, if it is possible, the best way of achieving it is fear.

Although his demotic language jarred on the sophisticates, Michael Howard once delighted the Conservative party conference when he said: “If you don’t want to do the time, don’t commit the crime.” That would be the average Tory’s response to any complaints about prison conditions.

I’m interested as it highlights something we saw in the Children of the World pilot. One of the triad signifiers we used back then was around concepts of justice. Dave and Beth had gathered them from core anthropological concepts, as well as conversations at the time with the Tutu Foundation. (I used it to illustrate SenseMaker™ here.)

In essence, there are three core concepts to justice – deterrence, revenge (or retribution) and reconciliation (or restoration).

From the research – the thousands of stories we collected that were signified by the young people we were working with – we could see very quickly how differently justice was seen by different groups*:

  • In the UK, justice is perceived as being about deterrence and revenge. Knife crime – or at least the stories gathered from the young people we worked with – is about deterrence. (i.e. they see carrying a knife as an act to deter violence. It may be a mistaken act, but that is how they see the motivation.)
  • In Pakistan, justice is first about reconciliation, then deterrence and revenge.
  • In Lebanon, young people were very evenly spread between all three concepts. Whereas other countries often produce clusters close to the triad corners (indicating somewhat black-and-white thinking), in Lebanon there was a high degree of sophistication in thinking about justice concepts.
  • In Jordan, there was a slight predominance on revenge (the bottom right corner of the triangle below) and deterrence (the top corner) although reconciliation was not as notably absent as in the UK.
    Sensemaker justice triad results Jordan
  • In Mexico (shown below), concepts are again quite black-and-white (clustered in the corners). And here, justice is seen first about reconciliation and then about deterrence – revenge is relatively absent in the culture.
    Sensemaker justice triad results Mexico

It’s easy – once you can see that kind of information – to see these beliefs emerge and are reinforced. UK discussion of crime – whether in the media or in private discussion – tends to focus on the criminal. Justice is therefore, as implied in the FT quote above, about punishment, rarely about making restoration. In Pakistan, by contrast, I would argue that the underlying tribal and community ethos implies that “you may have done wrong, but you still have to live within this community – therefore the first priority is to rebuild necessary links and make restoration within this community.”

With the news this morning from Pakistan, however, I suspect that if we were to go back and gather material, we might see a shift towards revenge.

*Caveat: with the small sample in some countries, these results should be seen as more indicative than conclusive