Beyond Harsh Punishments: Rethinking Crime Prevention in India

    • By,
      Aradhana Pandian – Student, Kautilya

The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill was introduced to replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which has been in effect since 1860, with a comprehensive criminal law bill. The law intends to bring India’s criminal justice system up to date and improve its efficacy in combating crime. The bill has started a fierce national debate, proposing more severe penalties for various criminal offenses to deter crime and ensure public safety. While the intentions behind the bill were good, it is essential to evaluate whether increasing punishments, often regarded as harsh, honestly leads to lower crime rates. This article will explore the consequences of such punitive measures and highlight other approaches to addressing crime. The new bill seeks to enact harsh punishments for various criminal activities, such as rape, murder, and drugs. The present government contends that these severe penalties will act as a deterrence, preventing potential offenders from committing crimes.

A central argument favoring brutal punishments is the belief that they are potent deterrents. However, the effectiveness of deterrence as a crime prevention strategy remains a subject of ongoing debate. Research suggests that the certainty of punishment has a more substantial impact on deterring crime than the severity of the sentence itself. In other words, individuals are less likely to commit crimes if they believe they will be caught and punished, regardless of how severe the punishment may be. Brutal penalties like death or mandatory life sentences have no room for error. The legal system is imperfect, and there have been cases where innocent people were unfairly condemned, as in the Vishnu Tiwari case (2021). Irreversible penalties can result in grave injustices, with innocent people being held accountable for crimes they did not commit. These consequences are irrevocable, which presents severe moral and ethical questions.

Implementing punishments without a comprehensive plan for rehabilitation and reintegration can result in overcrowded prisons. The governor of Andhra Pradesh, S. Abdul Nazeer, stated that while planning reforms in the prison administration, concerns about prison overcrowding and the search for alternative forms of incarceration are crucial. He pointed out that 129% of the nation’s prisons are overcrowded. Overcrowds hinder the provision of essential support and rehabilitation programs to inmates. This can perpetuate a cycle of criminal behavior, as individuals released from jail without proper reintegration support are more likely to re-offend.

Without a thorough plan for rehabilitation and reintegration, harsh punishments can lead to overcrowded jails. The delivery of vital support services and rehabilitation programs to prisoners is hampered by overcrowding. It is because those released from prison without the proper reintegration support are more likely to commit crimes again; this could perpetuate a cycle of criminal conduct. 34,94,966 of the 37,90,812 persons arrested in India were first-time offenders. Among the elderly criminals, 2,34,896 had already completed one jail sentence, 47,884 had spent a minimum of two jail terms, and 12,930 had been found guilty more than three times. Recidivism in India has been on the rise again. The overall recidivism rate is 7.8 percent.

The Bharathiya Sanhita Bill places a strong emphasis on severe penalties for a variety of misdeeds, including non-violent and minor transgressions. Applying severe penalties for small infractions can burden the criminal justice system and result in resource waste like excessive costs, diversion from major or more intense crimes, and reduced rehabilitation potential. Differentiating between the criminal offenses that endanger public safety and those that are best dealt with through alternate channels, such as community service or rehabilitation programs, is vital.
The rule of law is frequently prioritized in nations with low crime rates, creating safer economic climates. The Nordic nations of Europe, such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland, are notable examples. These countries are frequently some of the safest in the world.

The emphasis on rehabilitation, humane prison conditions, shorter sentences, restorative justice procedures, and low recidivism rates characterize Norway’s approach to punishing offenders. Norway’s strategy for dealing with criminal conduct is a break from punitive methods. It is an example of a different perspective focusing on reintegration and preventing future crime.

Individualized sentencing, shorter prison terms, prison education, mental health care, and drug abuse therapy are all highly valued in Sweden. Sweden’s strategy strongly emphasizes restorative justice procedures, community-based alternatives, and crime prevention.

Danish criminal punishment is progressive and centered on rehabilitation, the same as its Scandinavian rivals. Denmark strongly emphasizes customized sentencing, which enables courts to customize penalties to each case’s particular facts and the offender’s requirements. It frequently imposes shorter life sentences and focuses on rehabilitation while an inmate. It offers open prison facilities, similar to those in Norway and Sweden, giving inmates more freedom and chances for education and employment training.

Within its criminal justice system, Denmark places a strong emphasis on educational and rehabilitative initiatives that address problems, including substance misuse and mental health. The acceptance of restorative justice, which emphasizes accountability and includes victims in the settlement process, is widespread. Probation and community service are two examples of the non-incarceration measures and sanctions that Denmark supports.

The discussion surrounding the Bharathiya Sanhita Bill has highlighted the importance of a balanced, evidence-based approach to crime prevention. The bill’s aims are good, but it’s essential to consider the drawbacks of harsh penalties. The court system should emphasize restorative justice, community-based solutions, and treating the underlying causes of crime, such as poverty and unemployment, and political factors, such as corruption, rather than only concentrating on punitive measures.

Countries with rehabilitation-focused policies that put reintegrating convicts into society above ensuring public safety include Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. The focus should be on increasing the certainty of punishment rather than raising sanctions. With prominent efforts to restorative justice principles, India will move towards a criminal justice system that punishes the offenders and helps in healing, safety and reconciliation for all.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.