Sunday, 25 December 2011

Life-long debt to society scheme

GAZETTE: Teenager scorns punishment for £200k vandalism to Colchester trains  

I read this today and was appalled by the complete disregard for actions that cost the rest of us thousands of pounds. I have no doubt that this chap may well grow up, get a job, settle down, marry, have children, become a granddad and generally behave.  Although he has no appetite at the moment to care about what he has done, he has plenty of time later in life to reconsider his youthful actions.

Someone who commits crime and is sent to prison has to serve the time or otherwise given ASBOs, community orders or unpaid work.  However, they rarely repay actual costs involved in putting right what they did wrong or the costs society paid in actually getting them there. It would be interesting to take an actual cost for a crime such as this and see how it all adds up.  In this case, there is the cost of cleaning the trains which has been quoted as £200,000.  150 hours of unpaid work - if you assume a generous £8 per hour then this sentence would repay £1,200 worth of the £200,000 'debt'.  Only a small dent isn't it.  For me to pay back that kind of money with what I earn, it would take about 8 years. If I was realistic and considered  the mortgage, council tax, bills, food and other essentials and was able to find £500 per month, the period of 'debt' would be more like 30 years. One single mistake like the one this guy made should cost him the equivalent of an average mortgage repayment period. Rather than 150 hours of unpaid work, we're probably looking at 13 years of full time work or about 25,000 hours. No wonder he scorns the punishment really is it. Of course the £200,000 isn't the only cost involved here.  The police had to investigate the crime and build a case.  Lawyers and court staff had to bring it through the courts system and behind all that, social workers and probation staff have to support both the victims and accused through the the end.  At every stage, there is an additional cost to society to make all this happen.

I believe the long-term solution to high value damage like this is to mark it down as a lifelong debt to society which is ultimately reclaimed (+ interest) at some stage but never forgotton.  This could be a long term loan once this chap grows up, marries, gets a job and starts behaving himself.  If that doesn't happen, it could result in a reduced state pension and the rest can be collected as part of the settlement when he dies.  If the money isn't there when he dies, the debt carries over to surviving inheritors of the estate who take on the continued responsibility.

Another option for later life is to repay the money by volunteering for a role in society which has a monetary value.  Participating employers could become involved in the scheme so that anybody employed is automatically forced to repay their 'society debt' at a minimum rate as a condition of employment.

There could be great benefits to society as part of this scheme.  Once people realise the true value of their foolish actions, they would also realise the value of not committing crime as well. People who are responsible drivers earn no-claims bonus on their policy which reduces what they pay.  The same system could apply to a person who owes a 'society debt'.  A year of crime-free, responsible living could earn them a reduction in their debt. The main thing is to pass the true financial responsibility to a person to hold until they have properly paid it back.

Once a system like this has run for a few decades, people would soon wake up to how such a huge amount of damage has a real value.

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