Swift, effective punishment can control rampant crime in Kenya

Effective Punishment deters crime and delinquency. [Courtesy]

It is not in dispute that crime and delinquency rates have risen in Kenya. The ever-common general violence and murders; some by confessed killers, suicides, thefts, hate speeches, commonplace frauds, and arson attacks by learners are indicators that all is not well.

Several reasons have been attributed to the lawlessness. For instance, psychologists and sociologists have attributed school riots, juvenile delinquency and general youth violence to individual, family and community risk factors.

The risk factors within an individual that could influence youth to violence and delinquency include attention deficit, hyperactivity, conduct disorders, drug abuse, low educational achievement, lack of commitment to learning, unemployment and exposure to violence within the family, among others.

The family risk factors include poor supervision of children by parents, harsh, negligent or inconsistent parental disciplinary practices, low level of attachment between parents and children, lack of parental engagement in children's activities, parental drug abuse and or criminality, parental depression, and economic hardship within the family.

Community-based risk factors include easy access to drugs within the community, media influence, poverty within the community, and lax enforcement of the laws.

Crime among adults has similarly been blamed on poverty and difficult economic situations. However, some criminals are driven by an insatiable greed for material wealth, coupled with the desire to take advantage of the fact that punishments awarded are normally ineffective.

In Kenya, it can rightly be argued that ineffective punishment is mainly to blame for the increased crime and delinquency rates.

Effective Punishment deters crime and delinquency. The purpose of any kind of punishment is to offer specific and general deterrence to future criminal and or delinquent activities. Specific deterrence refers to fear instilled in the punished convict that should prevent him or her from committing crime in future.

The purpose of any kind of punishment is to offer specific and general deterrence to future criminal and or delinquent activities. [Courtesy]

While general deterrence refers to the fear cultivated in the general public after a convict is punished. In fact, it is because of the value of general deterrence that various states reserve death penalty for felonies.

Penologists argue that an effective punishment must be characteristic by alacrity, severity and certainty. Alacrity refers to the swiftness with which punishment is awarded to the convict after the offence is committed.

Punishment cannot be effective where the criminal justice process of determining guilt takes unreasonably long.

In Kenya, it often takes months and even years. Criminal justice institutions and other stakeholders involved must therefore do everything possible to reasonably shorten the duration of investigations, and trials so as to award punishments to the convicts within the shortest time possible.

To achieve this, more criminal justice personnel should be employed to reduce a backlog of cases in courts, and speed up investigations and prosecutions. With enough personnel, computerized processes, and digitalized court proceedings, we can institute in law, specific time periods to dispense with various types of cases.

This will eliminate instances where fraud and corruption cases drag for years before they are concluded.

Customarily, the suspects in these cases apply and receive favourable bail terms after which they frustrate proceedings through constitutional injunctions and, or constant adjournments on flimsy excuses.

However, at times, the sluggishness experienced in the criminal justice process is occasioned by the desire to protect the rights of suspects. In this respect, we should balance between the need to respect the rights of suspected criminals and the desire to accord justice to the victims of crimes, and prevent future criminal activities for the general good of society.

In this regard, Robert Mark’s warning given in 1974 should guide the Kenyan government in dealing with crime suspects.

He asserts: “If the society is in favour of the accused, in terms of procedure of investigation and trial, the police may be adequate in manpower, equipment and mobility but they (the police) will not succeed in their work.”

Criminal justice institutions and other stakeholders involved must do everything possible to reasonably shorten the duration of investigations. [Courtesy]

The second requirement of severity posits that punishment awarded must be commensurate with the seriousness of crime committed by a convict. If a punishment, then the individuals will be discouraged from committing criminal activities in future.

In this regard, it has been observed that corruption cases are fewer in the Middle East countries because it begets very severe punishment, including death. Obviously, when punishment is too lenient or lacking, the culprits are merely encouraged to continue with the crimes because it pays.

On the other hand, if punishment is too severe for a petty offence, then the punished offender will become bitter and vengeful against society, and may end up committing more serious crimes. The certainty element refers to the probability that crime, when committed, will be punished.

It is agreeable that if an offender is sure in his or her mind that if they commit a crime they will be caught and severely punished swiftly, then such offenders are likely to desist from committing crime.

However, in some cases, the certainty that all crimes will be punished is not guaranteed due to failure in detection, apprehension of the offenders, weaknesses and or corruption.

In this case, individuals may commit crimes expecting to escape apprehension, or to corrupt the criminal justice system personnel. Therefore, to reduce crime and delinquency rates, we must ensure that punishment for the wayward is certain, severe and swift.

A punishment that lacks these characteristics is deficient. Availability of various forms of punishments is impotent if the certainty that offenders will be apprehended and punished is not guaranteed due to corruption, poor investigations, ineptitude and other weaknesses in the criminal justice system.

Such punishments may also not be severe enough due to the same reasons. The convicts are also rarely punished swiftly since the judicial process in Kenya usually takes forever.