Lifestyle Sentencing cont'd...
The possibilities of such lifestyle sentences are endless. The State could impound property (televisions; cars), suspend licenses, revoke passports. The sentence would have to be constructed in such a way as to be consistent with the fundamental principle of sentencing. That principle states that the severity of sentences must reflect the seriousness of crimes for which they are imposed. Thus the lifestyle sentences would comprise more restrictions in the more serious cases. Lifestyle sentences would apply to offenders who at present go to prison for brief periods, say up to 60 days. This currently includes two-thirds of all offenders.
Ah, but how do you verify that the lifestyle restrictions are being obeyed? How do you ensure that the offender is actually at home on Saturday evening? This is a frequent problem with community-based penalties, but it can be fixed. First, you invest more in the probation service which conducts periodic, random checks on the offender. Second, the more serious cases would be subject to electronic monitoring. Third, you would make it clear to the offender that a single unjustified violation will result in arrest and imprisonment. At present, offenders who violate probation or other court orders seldom go to prison.
Finally, you provide courts with the authority to permanently impound property, which is then sold at auction for charity.
Defence counsel may object and argue that the lifestyle sentence is too harsh and that their client might as well go to prison. But anyone who has been to prison knows that the restrictions associated with a lifestyle penalty are still much better than spending time in jail.
Lifestyle penalties would be particularly useful for young offenders. Over one-third of sentences imposed at the present time in youth court involve a term of custody. Many of these young people would be better off being ordered to stay at home every night after 7:00 p.m., or being prevented from attending places of entertainment. They could be required to spend every Saturday in school. Such restrictions would carry as much impact for a young person as custody, but without the expense of custody.
At the end of the day, by using a lifestyle penalty the court imposes a meaningful set of consequences on the offender, thereby achieving one of the goals of sentencing. The offender avoids incarceration, and the community saves the cost of imprisonment, currently running about $150 a day.
The English historian George Trevelyan wrote that "curiosity is the lifeblood of real civilization." The philosopher Bertrand Russell went even further. He wrote that the ability to be interested in many things is the most faithful barometer of human happiness. The more we are awake and alive to the incredible variety of life's great mysteries and small pleasures, the more interested we are in other people and places, the more curious we are about what makes people and clocks tick, the more abundant will be our happiness as human beings.
I begin my brief remarks with these comments about happiness because I think ultimately that is where literacy leads us. Whether newly developed literacy skills mean the freedom to read a night-time story to your daughter for the first time, the dignity that comes with filling out your own employment application, or the simple pleasure of being able to read an article on the moons of Jupiter or the migration of the Monarch butterfly, literacy is absolutely fundamental to human happiness in the broadest sense: it is the power to follow the interests of our mind and the inclinations of our heart.
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