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On Deterrence

Last year, many of us enjoyed watching Tom Hanks play the title role in the movie Captain Phillips, who had to deal with the takeover of a freighter by pirates off the Somalian coast.  The movie, which was based on a true story, bothered me because, while piracy in those waters was a nationally reported issue and well known to freighter companies and crews at the time the Maersk Alabama was captured, these huge ships remained virtually defenseless to the lightly armed groups of unsophisticated pirates in small boats.  A story published Monday in the Christian Science Monitor reports that things have changed dramatically over the past couple of years.  In 2011, 237 ships were attacked by pirates around northeast Africa.  So far this year there have been seven attacks which all failed.  What happened?  Warships were dispatched to patrol the area and the shipping companies hired armed security guards to repel the pirates.  The pirates who have been captured have been prosecuted and imprisoned.  Interviews with gang leaders who had previously managed the pirates and the pirates themselves reveal that, due to the increased consequences for piracy, it is no longer worth the risk.  This is called deterrence. 
It is the basis of every successful criminal justice system.  Yet many pro-defendant activists and many in academia deny it exists.  We have been told countless times that the death penalty does not deter murderers even in the face of multiple studies over the past fourteen years proving otherwise.  Smart sentencing advocates, those behind California's Realignment law and currently pushing the "Smart Sentencing Act" in Congress, also refuse to acknowledge that increasing the consequences for crime causes many potential and former criminals to change their behavior.  The low crime rates most parts of America have enjoyed over the past two decades while stiff sentencing laws for habitual felons were being adopted and enforced, demonstrate the impact of deterrence.  But those opposed to real consequences for criminals are to often exposed as hypocrites when it comes to other types of behavior.  With the blessing of progressives across drought-plagued California, the State Water Resources Control Board just announced that anyone who hoses off his driveway, uses unrecycled  water in a fountain, or floods a sidewalk can be fined $500.  These fines, we are told, will punish those who waste water and convince others to change their behavior, just like high taxes on cigarettes.  The article notes that the pirate gang leaders are not entirely quitting the business.  They are waiting for the cooperating nations and ship owners to become complacent and relax the security. 

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