The criminal law regulates how we as individuals deal with each other and how companies and businesses, deal with us and indeed how the government local and national deals with us.
The criminal law is in place to ensure that we as individuals comply with a set of rules that if we break the state will punish us.
The aim is to ensure that we do not take the law into our own hands and seek our own justice by harming the person we think has harmed us.
The purpose is for us to be protected from the actions of others by ensuring that those others are aware of an effective set of sanctions that are there to deter them from committing a crime and harming us as individuals.
It is to deter people from committing crime, however whether the punishment actually deters people from committing crime is debatable particularly in cases of sexual abuse.
In those circumstances the criminal law is in place to ensure that the victims of crime are empowered to report things that have caused them harm in the past and to ensure that individuals who presents a risk to society, for example by virtue of their position of power, or other circumstances, are prevented from harming anyone in the future or exploiting the vulnerable.
If these defendants are placed in prison the reason is for public protection and often sentences are put in place to ensure this. If on the other hand people require simple punishment but not rehabilitation the deprivation of liberty, then that is the function of a prison sentence as well.
The probation service offer the possibility of rehabilitation within the community and it is often the case that such community-based options are more successful and certainly cheaper than prison based option. Public opinion in general is considered by the public as a soft option. The reality is that it is not. Defendants offending behaviour is challenged and ongoing supervision in the community is in reality a significant change to the way a person lives their life. However the perception of the public has been difficult to challenge even though the statistics show the potential for a lower reconviction rate.
The emphasis in terms of punishment has significantly changed in the past 10 years in that the victims of crime often dictate, (to an extent) the punishment and level of seriousness of the court should take into consideration. Victim impact statements are read out in court. The court do take those into consideration when sentencing as an aggravating feature..
It is very difficult to explain to victims and family that there are punishments that are more effective than Prison. Prison sentences are getting longer and longer and the prison population is growing faster than the beds are available.
At some point the emphasis on imprisonment will have to change, simply because the financial resources are no longer available. Imprisonment, although necessary, is a very expensive way of dealing with offenders. Is it time for a rethink perhaps.?
The reasons for the criminal law being so important is wide and various, the object of a good system of criminal law in my opinion is this:-
“to protect and serve the community as a whole by dealing fairly with people who cause us harm or loss, for the benefit of the community as a whole”