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  • Writer's pictureSam Wilks

Examining the Effectiveness of Incarceration as a Crime Deterrent

Updated: Oct 29, 2023


The dim lighting of my office casts long shadows over my white desk, and I find myself reflecting upon the numerous years I've dedicated to training several hundred security personnel. My experiences have led me to consider the intricate relationship between public security and the realm of incarceration. Is incarceration genuinely an effective deterrent to crime?

The proponents of carceral ideologies believed that punishment, specifically incarceration, should be more about deterrence than retribution. Many argue for the proportionality of punishment and emphasised that the certainty and swiftness of punishment, rather than its severity, would act as the real deterrent. The utilitarian approach weighed the pleasure and pain, suggesting that the fear of punishment would deter individuals from committing crimes.

In the modern era I have highlighted the importance of understanding human behaviour in security. Focusing on predicting violent behaviour, suggests that we can anticipate harmful actions by understanding the signals. So where does incarceration fit in this predictive model?

Does the fear of imprisonment genuinely deter individuals from indulging in evil activities?

When I consider risk management and crime prevention, they present another layer to these complex questions. Security is not merely about reactive measures but also about understanding the root causes of crime. I might argue that incarceration, in isolation, might not be the silver bullet. A combination of preventive measures, community engagement, and rehabilitation might hold the key.

Yet, I've observed the government and hundreds of taxpayer-funded NGO's participate in these community engagement programs and rehabilitation scams, oops, schemes, to no avail. The costs so far are in the Billions and the results are high recidivism rates and almost no contrition shown by the offenders. Even worse, they are often promoted by state-funded media organisations as "Victims" or "victims of (insert a made-up reference to deny responsibility ie. society)". Although the idea that retribution deters crime may be arguable, the fact that bad behaviour rewarded leads to even more bad behaviour is beyond reproach.

So, does incarceration, as a singular approach, truly deter crime?

The answer is multifaceted.

Firstly, the nature of crime itself has evolved. With technological advancements, we see a rise in cybercrimes, white-collar crimes, and sophisticated criminal networks. Incarceration won't deter an individual sitting behind a computer screen halfway across the world, as they aren't even in the same jurisdiction.

Secondly, the socio-economic factors that influence individuals to commit crimes cannot be ignored. Poverty, lack of education, social culture, and proximity to criminals play a significant role. Incarceration without addressing these underlying issues is akin to applying a band-aid to a deep wound.

For many, crime becomes a way of life, a habitual behaviour. The fear of incarceration won'tt deter someone who sees crime as their only way out, or for whom the criminal world has become a community or family of sorts.

The "broken windows theory" suggests that visible signs of disorder and neglect cause an increase in crime. So, if our focus remains only on incarceration without addressing the environmental and societal factors that breed crime, we're missing the larger picture.

As I sit back in my chair, the weight of these reflections pressing down, I think of the countless individuals I've trained. For them and for the community at large, understanding crime deterrence is crucial. We are told to move beyond the simplistic notion of incarceration as the sole deterrent and embrace a more comprehensive approach. But, what about the cost? They've tried this for over 40 years and the evidence has been in for over 30 of them, most of the other methods DO NOT WORK!

Incorporation of community-based rehabilitation programs, addressing socio-economic disparities, understanding the psychological underpinnings of criminal behaviour, and fostering a proactive security approach have been the constant themes the community has been bombarded with for over four decades, and they do not work! Do we get to hold any of the numerous social studies academics, bureaucrats, social justice advocates or activist judges to account? Do we get to gain retribution for the Billions spent and wasted? Can we claw back the millions of hours in time, pain, loss, and lives lost due to radical bail programs and catch-and-release schemes?

Life is complex, filled with chaos and order. The realm of crime and its deterrence is no different. It's a dance between the chaos of criminal intent and the order of societal norms. Incarceration, as a singular measure, successfully brings a semblance of order momentarily; criminals behind bars don't harm the public, but for a lasting impact, we need to address the chaos at its roots, and I don't believe there is the political or social will to do that. We can't even get the prison facilities burned down by incarcerated criminals repaired in a timely manner, let alone discuss expansion or direct action!

While incarceration plays a pivotal role in the criminal justice system, relying on it as the primary crime deterrent is seen as an oversimplification, and many are now involved in the parasitic industries associated with "rehabilitation and deterrence", and have become a powerful lobbying block against crime reduction.

The multifaceted approach, which was supposed to address the root causes of crime, which was to offer proactive security measures and emphasising rehabilitation over mere punishment, is too engrained—over forty years of failure, be damned. As we move forward, let us remember that true security lies not just in deterring crime but in creating a society where the allure of crime diminishes, we need to stop rewarding bad behaviour, whether that is by financial means, political or through media sensationalism. A safe and secure society requires rules and regulations. As much time as I spend on training individuals in psychology, influence, de-escalation, and deterrence, I watch as the same criminals are released within hours of stabbing one of my colleagues, and another brutally murders a young man at work only weeks after threatening to do the same to others, and I have come to the conclusion, "the criminal behind bars, is not free, but they are safe..... and so is the public". However, this isn't what anyone wants to hear!


Note from the author.


The opinions and statements are those of Sam Wilks and do not necessarily represent whom Sam Consults or contracts to. Sam Wilks is a skilled and experienced Security Consultant with almost 3 decades of expertise in the fields of Real estate, Security, and the hospitality/gaming industry. His knowledge and practical experience have made him a valuable asset to many organizations looking to enhance their security measures and provide a safe and secure environment for their clients and staff.

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